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What is paediatric shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath (dyspnea) can vary greatly from child to child and has several possible causes. It is when the child feels they are not getting enough oxygen and so they increase their breathing rate and take larger breaths. This can be very distressing for both the child and the parent so it is important that they both know what to do if this occurs.

Therapist leads cycle of breathing exerciesAbove: Therapist leads cycle of breathing exercies

What causes shortness of breath in children?

There are several causes of shortness of breath. Anxiety is a common cause of shortness of breath where the child is anxious or distressed and their work of breathing increases because of this. It can also be a result of respiratory conditions such as asthma.

In serious cases it can also be caused by a lack of oxygen being transferred from the lungs to the blood (oxygen saturation) so more breaths are taken to compensate for this.

Therapist led activity to improve tolerance with shortness of breathAbove: Therapist led activity to improve tolerance with shortness of breath

What are the symptoms of shortness of breath in children?

Symptoms of shortness of breath include:
  • Fast rate of breathing
  • Deep breaths
  • Gasping for air
  • Pursed lips

What can physiotherapy do to help children with shortness of breath?

Physiotherapy treatment is aimed at teaching relaxing deep breathing exercises to the child so that they can slow down their breathing and maintain a normal breathing rate. This is the same for asthma sufferers along with education on how and when to use inhalers.

In the rare case of the child’s oxygen saturation being reduced, the physio would use breathing exercises to try and return it to normal. If this does not happen then immediate medical attention is required and physiotherapy would be provided if the child was admitted to hospital. This would involve the use of oxygen and manual techniques.


Shortness of breath is a common condition and can be caused by several factors. Treatment is aimed at relaxing the child and returning them to their normal breathing rate.

Physiotherapy can help children with shortness of breath. To arrange an appointment with call now on 0330 088 7800 or for more information please contact us.

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