Watch kids’ throats and ribs for signs of breathing problems

ER & First Aid

Chest colds, allergies, asthma – even choking – are all fairly common concerns in childhood. But how can you tell when a child is really in breathing distress and needs to go to an emergency room? One of the best places to look is their throat.

When children are struggling to breathe, the hollow area at the bottom of their neck where it meets their chest sucks in dramatically with each breathe. This area is called the suprasternal notch or jugular notch. With normal breathing, the skin in this area doesn’t visible move. But if breathing is strained, the skin tightens and the neck muscles tense.

Another good place to watch is the belly and ribs. The belly will expand much more with each breathe (think of a pregnant belly and you’ll get the idea) because the child is working so hard to bring enough air in. And their ribs may show through the skin with each breath—which may be more visible from the child’s back.

Other signs your child isn’t getting enough oxygen include:

  • Their breathing gets faster even though they’re not moving around
  • Their chest looks like it is caving in when they breathe
  • Their fingertips and the skin around their mouth is turning white or blue
  • Breathing is noisy (wheezing, grunting, coughing)
  • Can’t talk easily – breathes in the middle of thought/sentence
  • Drooling more than usual (in babies)
  • Is sleepier than usual, listless, not moving normally
  • Not responding normally or seems confused

For kids with chronic conditions, like asthma, you may have a spirometer on hand to measure your child’s breathing.

If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 or head to the nearest emergency room.

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