BREATH HOLDING SPELLS in infants
Nemit experienced these breath-holding spells twice a couple of months back (when he was 17 months old). And that was the most horrifying incident where I just went blank and was shivering with shock and fear. Also, I had no idea what action to take in response to that.
It was the afternoon time and I was trying to make him sleep. He was sleepy, little cranky and crying at the same time. The doorbell rang, as I was alone at home had to go and check which made him cry even louder. I couldn’t step out of the room because within a few seconds he stopped breathing, yes he was not breathing at all.
When I turned around to look at him he was crying but there was no sound and his face & lips were turning blue, he was trying to hold me but couldn’t. I was so terrified, completely blank at that moment. I was just tapping his back clueless as to what to do and how to bring him out of this. Somehow after an interval of around 40-50 sec, his breathing came to normal and blood flushed back in.
He always cries like this, taking long breaths but this time it was too intense. I turned to Google and searched frantically for hours about it.
Came to know about the term – Breath-Holding Spells
- These are the episodes in which a child cries because he is hurt, frightened, or upset. He may turn pale or blue, and lose consciousness.
- They typically start between 6 to 18 months of age and usually stop by the time the child is 7 years old.
- The child will start to cry and then will make no sound although he will appear to still be crying.
- The child cries and is exhaling or breathing out, not inhaling or breathing in.
The only thing which calmed me down was reading further…
- Although breath-holding spells are frightening to watch, the child is not harmed by them and they do not cause any brain damage.
- There is no treatment intervention that is needed, keeping the head down restores blood flow to the brain.
- While considered by many to be “attention-seeking” behaviour, these spells are not intentional; they result from an involuntary reflex, and the child has no ability to control them.
- Sometimes these spells are linked with anaemia so it’s always good to mention about iron deficiency to your baby’s Pediatrician to rule out any further problems.
There are 2 classic forms of Breath-Holding Spells–
- Cyanotic (respiratory) spells – they are often provoked by an upsetting situation, in anger or in frustration. The child usually cries loudly and then the cry gradually becomes noiseless. The child turns blue (cyanotic) and then the child may again start breathing or may proceed to lose consciousness. Sometimes, fits or seizure-like activity may follow the loss of consciousness.
- Pallid (cardiac) spells – they are usually seen following a painful or fearful experience. The child becomes pale and often loses consciousness within a single gasp or cry.
The pain or frustration causes the heart rate and blood pressure to change and triggers the loss of consciousness. Anaemia may cause a child who has breath-holding spells to have more frequent episodes, but anaemia is not the cause of the episodes.
Although breath-holding spells are frightening to watch, the child is not harmed by them and they do not cause any brain damage or result in epilepsy.
We met our doctor, she asked us to get his Iron Studies blood test done. When we got the reports we were shocked to see the results.
Below is the snapshot of Nemit’s report.
We were suggested to start Iron Syrup (Ferrous Sulphate) as it was clear from the report that a low level of iron could have played a role in these spells. But our experience with the Iron supplement was not good, soon after the 1st Dose Nemit suffered from a very bad case of stomach upset and diarrhoea which took him around 10 days to recover completely and he lost 2 Kgs weight.
We went to the doctor and this time she changed the Brand and again asked us to try giving it. As per the doctor, there is no way to check which medicine will suit him apart from using hit and trial method.
But we were too scared to again experiment with Nemit’s health. Although we knew it was the best way to improve his iron levels, we dropped the idea of giving medicine directly and started introducing more of iron-rich food in his diet. Since then there had been ‘No spells’ and we are considering the iron-rich food to be the reason.
We will be waiting until the month end to get the blood test done again to check if there is any improvement in iron levels. We are keeping our fingers crossed, can’t see our little baby suffer like this.
ETA– I have great news to share with you all, as you may have read above how Nemit experienced Breath-Holding Spells and how his low Iron Levels played a major role in those freaking episodes. It was back in July when we started with a dose of Iron and apparently, Nemit’s body rejected it resulting in the severe case of indigestion. We were too scared to start with another medicine. Hence made few changes in his diet and incorporated lots of iron-rich food in his daily meals.
We went for another blood test in the first week of September and were pleasantly surprised to see the reports. It was a miracle for us, without giving medicine we were able to bring Nemit’s iron levels in the normal range. You can have a look at the above-attached report.
Here, I want to advise parents not to panic in such a situation. It was my mother who wanted to start iron-rich food in place of medicine. And she also asked us to again get the test done. Whereas our doc didn’t say anything for the second test neither she gave us an option to avoid medicine. Sometimes trusting your instinct also work wonders.
Hope this information is helpful for new parents and they can be prepared in case of such a situation.