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It is extremely scary if your child has any sort of breathing difficulty. Use your instincts; if your child appears well and their breathing difficulty improves after a short period, there is normally no need to worry.
Wheeze is extremely common in young children and is most often triggered by a viral infection. Most pre-school children with wheeze do not have asthma.
Children under 2 years of age with breathing difficulty may have bronchiolitis. This is an extremely common condition that usually starts as a runny nose and cough but their breathing may get worse over the next 2-3 days.
If your child is struggling to breath, they need to be seen urgently by a medical practitioner and are likely to need treatment. If your child has croup (hoarse voice, barking cough, noisy breathing), they will also need to be seen by a medical practitioner.
Most chest infections are caused by viruses and do not usually need treatment with antibiotics.
Babies normally breathe at a faster rate than adults and older children. It is normal for a newborn baby to take slight pauses in their breathing for a few seconds, or to breathe rapidly for a short period. By 6 weeks of age they should have a more regular breathing pattern.
Sometimes a baby’s breathing rate may increase for a longer period of time if they are unwell and you may also notice they are working harder to breath. For babies, the most tiring thing they do is feeding, so this can be the first time you notice them struggling to breathe. If they are too breathless to feed, they need to be seen urgently by a healthcare professional.
It can be very scary watching your child having difficulty breathing and below are some signs to look out for if you are worried.
Your child may require emergency treatment.
You should call 999 or take them to your nearest Children’s A&E where they can be assessed.
Your child does not need to be rushed to A&E but you should seek medical advice today.
If your child develops any symptoms in the Red Box above, click and follow advice for that symptom.
Make sure that your child stays well hydrated by offering them lots of fluids. And closely monitor them for any signs of deterioration by looking out for any red or amber features.
If your child is interacting with you normally and is able to drink as normal, you can watch them closely at home. If your child is not feeding as well as normal, you should offer smaller feeds but more frequently.
If they become more breathless or start or are struggling to drink, they will need to be seen urgently by a medical practitioner. Call your GP surgery or NHS 111.
If your child has a fever, their breathing may become more rapid. You should try to lower their temperature using paracetamol (calpol)
Advice leaflet for coughs / breathlessness in children under 1
Advice leaflet for coughs / breathlessness in children over 1
You child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury.
You can get general advice on the NHS website or from your local Pharmacy.
If your child develops any of the symptoms in the Red or Amber boxes above, click on that symptoms and follow the advice.
The diagrams above are taken from www.whenshouldiworry.com
You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.
Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.
Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.
For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?
Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.
Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.
Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.
Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.
Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:
For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?
School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.
Contacting the School Nurse
Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.
All home educated children will have a named School Nurse.
Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.
They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-
Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.
The clinical team in GP surgeries include doctors, advanced nurse practitioners and nurses who are trained to assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP surgery team will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.
You have a choice of service:
If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.
Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.
A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.
Developed in Partnership with the Healthier Together Programme
Alder Hey Children's Charity