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.

  • 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 with the effort of trying to breathe.
  • Your child is breathing fast:
    • more than 50 breaths per minute for infants (2-11 months).
    • more than 40 breaths per minute for children (12-59 months).
  • 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 10 seconds at a time, or there are regular shorter pauses in their breathing of 5-10 seconds 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.

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 2016. Due for review: September 2019

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.