A breath-holding spell, also known as breath-holding attack, is a reflexive response that occurs in some young children, usually between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. It is characterized by a temporary cessation of breathing that happens in response to a particular trigger, such as pain, fear, frustration, or a sudden shock.
During a breath-holding spell, a child may involuntarily hold their breath after a crying episode or an emotional event. The breath-holding episode typically begins with the child taking a deep breath, followed by a brief period of breath-holding. This can lead to a change in skin color, usually turning pale or bluish. In some cases, the child may lose consciousness for a short period.
Breath-holding spells can be classified into two main types:
- Cyanotic spells: This is the most common type, characterized by a bluish discoloration of the skin due to a brief interruption in breathing. Cyanotic spells usually occur in response to a sudden fright, pain, or frustration.
- Pallid spells: This type is less common and involves the child becoming extremely pale or white in response to a strong emotional trigger. Pallid spells are typically associated with a sudden drop in heart rate and may cause the child to lose consciousness.
Breath-holding spells, although alarming for parents or caregivers, are generally harmless and do not cause any long-term health consequences. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the spells. Management of breath-holding spells involves providing reassurance and helping the child calm down during an episode.