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FAQ: Noisy Breathing in Children Print E-mail
Written by Gary Presant, MD   
Thursday, 29 October 2009

Noisy breathing in children is a common condition, usually caused by a blockage in the air passages.

What is going on in the body?

Noisy breathing is generally caused when a blockage somewhere in the breathing passages creates abnormal airflow. The blockage can be anywhere from the mouth to deep inside the lungs. Noisy breathing may be harmless or a life-threatening condition.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many causes of noisy breathing in children. Some of the possibilities are these:
- small objects into the mouth that are accidentally be inhaled into the windpipe
- a structural defect such as a deviated nasal septum, which divides the two nostrils unequally
- respiratory infections, such as croup, influenza, pertussis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, RSV infection, bronchiolitis, and the common cold.
- metabolic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, an inherited condition that affects the lungs
- asthma, which results in reversible narrowing of the airways
- gastroesophageal reflux disease, which occurs when stomach contents and acid flow backward all the way up into the throat and mouth and affect breathing.
- sleep apnea, a condition that results in a blockage of the airway in the throat during sleep
- tumors or cancer that partially or fully block the airways
- nervous system problems or damage that affect the ability to breathe, such as cerebral palsy
- paralysis of a vocal cord
- heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure that can cause fluid to collect in the lungs

Other causes are also possible.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment is directed at the cause. A child with a bacterial infection will be given antibiotics. Cases due to anatomic defects, such as deviated nasal septum, can often be corrected with surgery. Foreign bodies can often be removed during endoscopy. Gastroesophageal reflux disease can be treated with medications to reduce stomach acid.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects are related to the treatments used. Antibiotics may cause allergic reactions or stomach upset. Any surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to the anesthesia. Endoscopy may cause throat or windpipe irritation or, rarely, damage.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
A child with asthma may have occasional "flares" and need treatment for many years. A child with an infection usually gets better and needs no further treatment. Someone with cancer may die if treatment is not successful.

How is the condition monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider. Other monitoring is related to the cause. For example, a child with cancer may need repeated blood tests or x-rays to monitor the effects of treatment.


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