Signs of breathing problems in children

When should I call 999 about my child's breathing?

Call 999 now if your child has any of these breathing-related symptoms.

If you’re worried about your child’s breathing and afraid your child is becoming very ill right now, it’s vital to act quickly.

Your child may need urgent treatment if:

  • Your child has severe breathing difficulties or is exhausted from trying to breathe.
  • You can see the muscles under their ribs sucking in with each breath.
  • Your child is grunting (making a sound when breathing out) with the effort of trying to breathe.
  • Your child is breathing fast:
    • more than 50 breaths per minute for infants (2 months to 1 year)
    • more than 40 breaths per minute for children (1-12 years)
    • more than 20 breaths per minute for children over 12 and adults.
  • You're unable to wake your child or, if woken up, they are very drowsy and don't stay awake.
  • Your child’s breathing stops for more than 20 seconds on one occasion, or there are regular shorter pauses in their breathing while they are awake.
  • Your child’s skin turns very pale or blue, or the inside of their lips and tongue are blue.
  • Your child has had or is having a fit, and has never had one before.

Next: Seeing a doctor about your child’s breathing >

If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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Last medically reviewed: September 2019. Due for review: September 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.