Shortness of breath – known medically as dyspnea- involves sudden tightening of the chest and rapid breathing. In medical terms, lack of breath for over 10 seconds counts as breathlessness. It has several causes in adults and infants, but it is more difficult and serious in infants.
In adults and older children, a person can talk, describe his/her feeling and get adequate treatment. In infants, however, it happens fast and may go unnoticed. Sometimes a baby short or breath may lose the ability to cry or scream and could therefore be suffering in silence. This why babies, especially if they are prone to this type of illness, need to be monitored closely.
Infant breathlessness is a serious matter. Sometimes, it is a problem in and of itself and requires attention. Attention in this case can range from at-home first aid to hospitalization. Other times, it is only a symptom to a much more dangerous life-threatening condition.
Usually, breathlessness points to diseases in the lungs, but sometimes it can be due to problems in the heart or infections that interfere with normal functioning of the lungs. Infections take a toll on the body as a whole and causes severe exhaustion, which may also contribute to this problem.
Treatment must be immediate and sustained. Breathing problems cannot be taken lightly. Newborns who suffer from breathing issues need to be placed in an NICU immediately after birth and watched for days before they can be released. Parents have to keep on watching for any irregular symptoms at home, even after dismissal from the hospital.
15 It Can Happen To Anyone
In a normal baby, the first breath is taken immediately after birth. When the baby is in the uterus, fluid fills the lungs. At birth, he fluid in the lungs is removed through the blood and lymph system, and is replaced by air. At this point, breathing begins normally. Physical handling during labor also stimulates a baby’s crying and helps with the first breath.
In some cases, fluid in the nose does not move and blocks the airway, causing the first breath to be delayed. In this case, a medical professional -usually a doctor or a qualified nurse- uses an aspirator to draw fluid from the nose and clear the airway.
The process is usually smooth and the baby starts breathing well after. If not, then an underlying cause is present and the baby is taken to a more critical care unit for oxygen masks until further tests are done.
14 Breathing Problems Can Signify Heart Disease
One of the most common causes of breathlessness in infants is congenital heart defect. This defect happens when the heart is not fully developed in the fetus. It causes problems with blood flow, affecting the oxygen supply that the baby receives.
Although this is common in preterm infants, about one-third of full-term babies born with a congenital heart defect have major defects that need surgery. This is why parents needs to watch out for breathing problems even in full-term babies.
The heart and the lungs are closely related in function and depend on each other. When the heart is not operating properly, it places extreme stress on the lungs to compensate for lack of oxygen in blood. Conversely, when the lungs are distressed, the heart is unable to function normally. Whatever the initial cause is, breathlessness is a dangerous result.
Medical intervention is necessary to determine the cause and provide proper treatment.
13 It Makes Babies Sweat
=A common symptom of breathlessness is sweating. This is particularly worrying because it is unusual in infants and it happens in irregular places such as around the lips or on the nose. It is usually accompanied by crying and restlessness.
=The reason for this symptom is related to effort. Think about how strenuous exercise causes increased heart rate and excess sweating in adults. It is the same for infants.
=When an infant is struggling to breath, this places extra stress on the body, particularly the lungs and the surrounding muscles. Muscles start using more energy than normal in an attempt to breathe, resulting in sweating as if the baby is exercising. It is also evident when the baby is having an episode of shortness of breath and gasping.
=When the two symptoms are combined, it is a surefire sign that something is wrong and that the baby is under stress.=
12 Sunken Abdomen
=The abdomen visibly changes during shortness of breath. When a baby inhales, the abdomen looks extremely sucked in, to the point that the ribs are clearly visible from under the skin. When the baby exhales, the abdomen is distended and pushed out.
This is because the abdomen reflects the movement in the lungs, which becomes extreme as inhalation and exhalation are attempted. The trachea, which is directly above the abdomen and in the middle of the ribs, also moves vigorously with the breathing movement.
Normal breathing moves the abdomen as well, but the movements are slight and slow. Normally, breathing does not lead to sudden visible differences in abdomen size between inhalation and exhalation. Also, the abdomen responds to gasping. Visibility of the ribs is also a serious sign, possibly indication weight loss.
In such cases, the lost weight is attributed to lack of feeding and increased exhaustion due to struggling with the disease or the infection causing shortness of breath.
11 Makes Babies Appear Bluish
When an infant is suffering from breathlessness, he/she usually has bluish skin. The reason for that is lack of oxygen. Oxygenated blood which carries oxygen to all tissues has a red color while deoxygenated blood, which has already deposited oxygen to the tissues, is bluish.
The unusual bluish color in the skin signifies that there is deoxygenated blood where oxygenated blood should be, which means that tissues are not getting the oxygen they need.
This symptom is especially apparent in the hands and feet, because those are the farthest from the heart and lungs. It becomes difficult for the blood to reach them and provide efficient oxygen, because of weak heart and lungs functions. Blood is also a source of heat, so infants who have trouble breathing, hands and feet may be exceptionally cold.
Using gloves or heaters in a room does not help in this case, because the symptoms has an internal cause.
10 It Affects Feedings
One if the signs of infant breathlessness is lack of feeding. Naturally, when an infant is unable to breathe properly because of a problem in the nose or throat, he/she might start breathing through the mouth. When the mouth is sealed while breastfeeding or taking a bottle, it is expected that the infant retreats, discontinues feeding and cries.
The only source of air has been blocked an it is impossible to maintain adequate feeding. Doctors may advise intravenous fluids to keep the baby hydrated and nourished.
This sign may be dangerous. Because the explanation is clear, some parents will wait out the lack of feeding while they treat the cause. However, infants may start to lose weight over time, especially if they have a serious infection that takes time to treat.
Parents must clear the airways through nasal aspirators or nebulizers to make sure the baby can eat and breathe as he/she heals.
9 Breathing pattern changes
Infant breathlessness is often difficult to spot. It may appear as wheezing, coughing, gasping for air and rapid short breaths. Wheezing appears as a squeaky sound during breathing and may be due to the underlying cause of breathlessness, which can be a viral infection in the lungs, or something more serious like cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis is the abnormal thickening of the gland that produces thick mucus. It clogs the lungs, glands, and digestive tract of the child with mucus, interrupting normal breathing.
Rapid breathing is also a common symptom by which the body tries to make up for the decreased air. A respiratory rate of above 60 breaths per minute is a cause for concern. Also, breathing becomes shallow, which means that each breath is shorter than normal and does not fill the lungs efficiently.
Grunting at the end of each breath is also a common sign that indicates that breathing is not successful.
8 Nostrils Will Flare
Some of the symptoms of breathlessness appear on a baby’s nose. The nose is the outermost part of the respiratory system and is therefore affected by whatever happens in it. Nasal flaring, which is redness and widening of the nostrils, could indicate difficulty in breathing.
It is a common symptom in the flu, but also appears when a baby is struggling to breathe in more severe cases.
A blockage in the air passages around the nose, mouth, or throat, males it very hard to breathe and it immediately shows on the nose. Infections are also visible in the changes on the nose, especially when it is blocked my mucus. Mucus is an indication that the respiratory tract is fighting a microorganism.
It is possible that the redness is triggered by inflamed blood vessels in the sinuses, which are also secondary to sickness and are usually very painful. A humidifier may help in this symptom.
7 There May Be A Trigger
Breathlessness may occur due to various factors, one of which is allergy. Allergy to certain smells, especially to cigarette smoke, is quite common. When an infant with allergy is exposed to smoke, the particles of smoke line the respiratory tract and cause severe cough.
This cough interferes with breathing. Of course, a few coughs are no concern for alarm, but sustained coughing is dangerous even in infants who do not usually have allergies.
Coughing is the normal body’s defense to expel the foreign particles from the lungs. It continues until all particles are ejected from the body. During this short time, the baby is unable to breathe properly. If the trigger is still there, the baby continues to cough and this puts normal breathing on hold, which is a huge risk.
Oxygen may start declining in the blood within minutes, because an infant cannot handle coughing and lack of air as long as an adult might.
6 Breathlessness Is Connected To SIDS
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a serious syndrome in which infants suddenly stop breathing and die. It is connected to the presence of pillows or other objects in the crib with the baby. Also, some doctors attribute sleeping position to the syndrome.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended since 1992 that infants be placed to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS. After 6 months of age, the risk of SIDS declines dramatically.
While SIDS could happen before parents are aware of it, in some instances the baby suffers an episode of breathlessness first, allowing parents to act quickly. In other words, if breathlessness persists in an infant, it could eventually lead to SIDS. In most cases, SIDS happens during sleep.
So, parents who notice breathlessness in their babies must keep a close eye on them during sleep, at least for the first few months.
5 Fevers Can Accompany Breathlessness
Fever is associated with infections. When the body tries to fight a microorganism that is causing disease, the body temperature is elevated. Fever is not dangerous and is not the cause of breathlessness. In cases when infant breathlessness is due to a lung infection, fever occurs.
This is why fevers should be taken seriously. It is important that parents confirm the source of the fever and make sure that breathing is possible.
In upper respiratory tract infections, mucus could plug the respiratory tract and lead to breathlessness. This is why fever could mean that the body is fighting and improving, but attention has to be paid to the nose and throat to ensure that while the infection heals, breathing does not cease.
Using a medication to control the fever should be done after a doctor’s appointment to confirm that the reasons of the ailment has been discovered rather than repressed.
4 Might Be Diet-Related
It seems that all the causes of shortness of breath are related to the lungs, however, the human body is amazingly interconnected and many things can contribute to the symptom. Iron-deficiency anemia is a key player in breathing problems.
Iron is one of the main constituents of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the entire body. When iron lacks, infants get less oxygen that they need and begin to get more tired.
Over time, iron supply depletes and oxygen cannot be transferred to the body. As a compensatory mechanism, the lungs start breathing faster and faster, in an attempt to get more air into the body.
Usually, unless iron is given, this attempt alone cannot save the baby, simply because no matter how much air gets into the lungs, the oxygen is not processed. Also, the infant’s lungs are too small to take that much air into them, regardless of respiratory rate.
3 Could Be Related To Birth
Breathlessness may happen to any baby regardless of their age. However, preemies are at a higher risk. This is because preemies have immature lungs that lack surfactant, which is the fluid that coats the airways and prevents them from collapsing and sticking together.
Preemies can be surfactant directly into the airway at the hospital to help them breathe. Muscle strength is also limited in preemies, making the muscles responsible for breathing unable to endure the effort.
Also, it is argued that women who give birth by C-section have a higher risk of breathlessness in their newborn than those who deliver vaginally. Also, babies born by C-section are more likely to develop asthma later in life. C-section deliveries may be done before the baby is full-term, and therefore has immature lungs.
Small underdeveloped lungs make infants unable to breathe properly and may need medical assistance in an intensive care unit until they mature.
2 Mothers Can Contribute To Breathlessness
Smoking mothers place their infants at risk of breathlessness. Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to the baby in utero, leading to low birth weight and immature lungs at birth, which interfere with breathing.
It also increases the baby’s heart rate to abnormal numbers, which makes breathing uncomfortable. Because of the biological changes in a baby of a smoking mother, the baby is at a higher risk of SIDS.
Additionally, women with diabetes need to control their sugar levels during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes increases the chance that baby will have breathing problems. It also increases the possibility of a C-section or preterm birth, both of which may themselves become causes for lung problems in an infant.
Folic acid has also been strongly linked to lung function, which means that women who do not have sufficient intake of folic acid during pregnancy are more likely to have lung problems in their babies.
1 Can Be Treated With Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids are among the most widely used drugs in the world. They mimic the effect of hormones naturally released from the adrenal glands located above the kidneys. They work by binding to glucocorticoid receptors and initiating cellular pathways that inhibit inflammation of the lungs and respiratory airways.
This makes them ideal for asthma and other inflammations that affect breathing. The duration of treatments lasts between a few days to over 3 months, depending on the case.
They may be injected or given in inhalers and nebulizers. They are usually given at hospitals, but can be prescribed for use at home. Over time, they help with lung diseases that cause breathlessness and can decrease the frequency of sickness and the required hospital visits.
A safer approach being taken recently is giving the mother corticosteroids before birth, which is possible in pregnancies in which the mother has a risk factor that makes the baby vulnerable to lung problems.