What are your concerns?

Hard to understand

Or copy link


What You Should Know About Breath-Holding Spells

What You Should Know About Breath-Holding Spells

A breath-holding spell is a condition in which a child stops breathing and falls unconscious for up to a minute. Children may unintentionally experience these spells when they are frustrated or in pain.

There are two types of breath-holding spells. They are:

  • Cyanotic spell happens when the child is angry;
  • A pallid spell happens when the child’s heart rate drops.

These spells are usually caused by either of the following causes:

  • Alternation in your child’s breathing pattern or slowing of his/her heart rate due to intense emotions or pain;
  • In certain cases, it may be due to iron deficiency anemia, a medical condition where the body is unable to produce the required number of blood cells, that your child may be suffering from.

What Are the Symptoms of Breath-Holding Spells?

Children usually have breath-holding spells between the age of six months and six years old. They occur the most among children between one and three years of age.

While some children have a spell occasionally, some others may have them a few times every day. Symptoms of breath-holding spells are:

  • Unconsciousness that last for up to one minute
  • Muscle twist
  • Seizure or stiffness of the body
  • Heartbeat changes (slower or faster than normal)
  • In a cyanotic spell, the child may breathe too fast or there may be difficulty in breathing. There may be a long pause before his/her next breath. On the other hand, in a pallid spell, the heartbeat rate may be slower than the required rate
  • The skin may turn red or blue-purple, especially around the lips, in a cyanotic spell, while, in a pallid spell, the skin may become pale and perspire more
  • Crying
  • In a cyanotic spell, there may be a short and intense outburst, while in the case of a pallid spell, it may be accompanied by maybe a single cry or no crying at all

Could Breath-Holding Spells Be Related to a Medical Condition?

In most cases, breath-holding spells may disappear on their own when the child grows up without any complication.

However, what looks like a casual spell may result from much more serious medical conditions such as seizure disorder or iron deficiency anemia.

So, if your child starts to experience breath-holding spells, take him/her to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

breath-holding spells

How Can Breath-Holding Spells Be Diagnosed?

You should write down what happens during each spell since those details may greatly help in diagnosing the root cause of a child’s breath-holding spells.

If your doctor believes that the reason behind breath-holding spells is a health condition like seizure disorder or iron deficiency anemia, you will perhaps be advised to take your child for medical tests.

Treatment Options

Breath-holding spells do not require treatment. To reduce their frequency, get your child to have sufficient rest and make sure that he/she always feels safe. If the spells happen more often or turn more serious, tell your doctor.

During the spell, keep the child in a safe place where nothing can hurt him/her. Do not give it too much attention. Your child may perceive this as a way to get attention and try to fake it.

That is why you do not need to take your child’s breath-holding episodes too seriously, if there is no fainting, just like the way you let them manage tantrums on their own.

As parents, you may help with your child’s condition by keeping him/her from situations that may provoke breath-holding spells. Find another way to discipline your child that is strict, but does not get him/her too frightened.

It is also a good idea to teach your child how to deal with negative emotions. These kinds of lessons will benefit your child for their entire life.

Looking for Parenting stories?

Join the Parenting community and exchange stories with other moms and dads. Join Communities now!

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Breath-holding spells in infants/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325862/Accessed on 27/08/2020

Breath-holding spell/https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000967.htm/Accessed on 27/07/2020

Breath-holding Spell/https://www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/a-z/breath-holding-spell/Accessed on 27/08/2020

Breath-holding in babies and children/https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breath-holding-in-babies-and-children/Accessed on 27/08/2020

Breath-holding spells https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/ Accessed June 30, 2021

Picture of the authorbadge
Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Jun 30, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel