KidsMD Health Topics

Respiratory Distress

  • Learning the signs of respiratory distress

    If your child is having difficulty breathing, she may show signs of being in danger of respiratory distress. It is important to learn these signs to know how to respond appropriately.

    Here is a list of some of the signs that could indicate that your child may be in danger of respiratory distress:

    • Increased breathing rate - If your child’s breathing rate increases, this may indicate that she is having trouble breathing or not getting enough oxygen.
    • Color changes - A bluish color around your child’s mouth, on the inside of her lips or on her fingernails may occur when she is not getting enough oxygen. Her skin may also appear pale or gray.
    • Grunting - You may hear a grunting sound each time your child exhales. The grunting is her body's way of trying to keep air in the lungs so they will stay open.
    • Noseflaring - If your child’s nostrils spread open while she breathes, she may be having to work harder to breathe.
    • Retractions - our child’s chest will appear to sink in just below the neck or under his breastbone with each breath. This is another way of trying to bring more air into her lungs.
    • Sweating - There may be an increase of sweat on your child’s head, but without his skin feeling warm to the touch. More often, his skin will feel cool or clammy. This may happen when his breathing rate is very fast.
    • Wheezing - If you hear a tight, whistling or musical sound each time your child breathes, this may indicate that the air passages are smaller, which makes it harder to breathe.

    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

    fax: 617-730-0373



  • In depth text

  • Deidre's story

    I recently found myself in the Children’s Hospital Boston Emergency Room, waiting to have my toddler admitted for symptoms of pneumonia, including respiratory distress, high fever and hypoxia (low levels of oxygen). From the get-go, I attempted to keep my imagination in check and acknowledge that for all my son’s discomfort, we would most likely be walking out of the hospital, a little sleep deprived but none the worse for wear, in a matter of days.

    I had time to sit, think and observe — and it became clearly apparent that in its years of operation, Children’s has taken very seriously its responsibility to its patients and their families, soliciting and acting on feedback regarding how to make the difficult experience of being in the hospital as comfortable as possible. From the lively, engaging lobby with its ample seating, good food and entertaining displays, to the brightly lit floors with their happy visuals, the hospital does a good job at masking the serious nature of one’s visit.

    While it broke my heart that some children are here long enough to merit individually painted windows in their rooms, I appreciate that they were allowed that little touch of humanity. Using small chunks of the hospital budget for things like stocked kitchens on the floors translate to big comfort and convenience for patients. When my son was taken off IV fluids and finally showed an interest in drinking again, it was a relief not to leave him alone at midnight, as there was some milk available a few doors down in the kitchen. The activity rooms on each floor, with their array of toys, books, movies and interactive projects, were a happy reminder of the fun things that childhood should be about.

    I hope I never have to have either of my children admitted to Children’s again, but should I need to, I’ll be completely confident that they’re in the best possible place.

    Thank you to all involved, for helping give parents that peace of mind.

     - Deidre Riley Thomson

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