Breath-Holding Spells

Breath-holding spells are brief periods—usually lasting no longer than a minute—when a young child stops breathing. These spells usually result from anger, fear, pain, or frustration and are not a deliberate behavior on the child's part.

The two main types of breath-holding spells are cyanotic, caused by the change in breathing pattern, or pallid, caused by a slowing of the heart rate.

Breath-holding spells are most common in children ages 1 to 3 years. Breath-holding spells are usually not serious and do not cause permanent damage or affect a child's future health. Most children gradually outgrow them.

Current as of: May 12, 2017

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics