Why Does My Child Pass Out When Crying?

Seeing your child pass out while crying can be a terrifying experience for any parent. It raises numerous questions and concerns about their well-being.

While it is natural to feel alarmed, it is important to understand that passing out when crying, also known as breath-holding spells, is a relatively common occurrence in some children.

In this article, we will delve into the possible reasons behind this phenomenon, its prevalence, and how parents can handle such situations.

Read Also: Why Does My Child Stare Off Into Space?

What are Breath-Holding Spells?

Definition and Characteristics

Breath-holding spells (BHS) are episodes in which a child holds their breath involuntarily, leading to a temporary loss of consciousness. These spells typically occur in response to crying, anger, or frustration. There are two main types of breath-holding spells:

Cyanotic Breath-Holding Spells (CBHS)

These episodes result in a temporary lack of oxygen to the brain, leading to a bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis). During a CBHS, the child may cry intensely, hold their breath, and eventually lose consciousness.

Pallid Breath-Holding Spells (PBHS)

Unlike CBHS, PBHS involve a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure, causing the child to become pale or even slightly bluish. The child may lose consciousness without any prior warning signs.

Prevalence and Age of Onset

Breath-holding spells are relatively common in young children, typically starting between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. They tend to peak in frequency around 2 to 4 years of age and often decrease in frequency and intensity as the child grows older. Studies have shown that approximately 5% to 7% of children experience breath-holding spells at some point during their early years.

Possible Causes and Triggers

Emotional Triggers

Breath-holding spells are often triggered by intense emotions such as anger, frustration, or fear. When a child becomes overwhelmed by these emotions, their instinctive response may be to hold their breath, which can lead to a spell. Crying is a common trigger for breath-holding spells, as the child may hold their breath involuntarily during a crying episode.

Reflex Mechanism Dysfunction

Another possible cause of breath-holding spells is a dysfunction in the reflex mechanism that regulates breathing and heart rate. This dysfunction may be related to an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions. The exact mechanism behind this dysfunction is not fully understood, but it may be influenced by genetic factors.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Some studies suggest a possible link between breath-holding spells and iron deficiency anemia. Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. In children with iron deficiency anemia, the reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood may contribute to the occurrence of breath-holding spells.

Diagnosis and Evaluation

If your child experiences breath-holding spells, it is important to consult their pediatrician for a proper diagnosis. The doctor will evaluate your child’s medical history, conduct a physical examination, and may order additional tests to rule out underlying medical conditions.

Management and Treatment

Reassurance and Safety Measures

In most cases, breath-holding spells are benign and do not require specific treatment. The primary goal of management is to ensure the safety of the child during an episode. It is essential for parents and caregivers to remain calm, gently place the child in a safe position (such as lying on their side), and ensure there are no objects that could cause injury nearby.

Addressing Underlying Factors

If iron deficiency anemia is identified as a contributing factor, the pediatrician may recommend iron supplementation or dietary

changes to improve the child’s iron levels. Addressing any emotional triggers and providing a supportive environment can also be helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of breath-holding spells.


In rare cases, medication may be considered for severe or persistent breath-holding spells. However, this is typically a last resort and only used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are breath-holding spells dangerous for my child?

In most cases, breath-holding spells are harmless and do not pose a serious threat to your child’s health. However, it is important to ensure their safety during an episode by gently placing them in a safe position and removing any objects that could cause injury.

How long do breath-holding spells typically last?

Breath-holding spells usually last for a short duration, typically less than a minute. However, it may feel longer to parents who are witnessing their child go through an episode.

Can breath-holding spells be prevented?

While it is not possible to completely prevent breath-holding spells, there are some measures you can take to minimize their occurrence. This includes identifying and addressing any potential triggers, such as emotional situations or frustration, and creating a calm and supportive environment for your child.

When should I seek medical attention for my child’s breath-holding spells?

In most cases, breath-holding spells do not require immediate medical attention. However, it is advisable to consult your child’s pediatrician if the spells become more frequent, last longer than usual, or are accompanied by other concerning symptoms. Additionally, if you suspect an underlying medical condition or have any other concerns, it is best to seek professional medical advice.

Can breath-holding spells be treated with medication?

In the majority of cases, breath-holding spells do not require medication. However, in rare and severe cases, when other management strategies have proven ineffective, a healthcare professional may consider prescribing medication. It is important to consult with your child’s pediatrician before considering any medication options.

Will my child outgrow breath-holding spells?

Breath-holding spells often decrease in frequency and intensity as a child grows older. Most children outgrow them by the age of 5 or 6. However, the timeline can vary from child to child. It is important to remember that breath-holding spells are typically a transient phase and do not have long-term consequences.

Are breath-holding spells hereditary?

While the exact cause of breath-holding spells is not fully understood, there is some evidence to suggest a genetic component. If you or other family members experienced breath-holding spells as children, there may be a higher likelihood of your child experiencing them as well. However, it is not always the case, and individual experiences can vary.

How can I comfort my child after a breath-holding spell?

After a breath-holding spell, it is essential to provide comfort and reassurance to your child. Offer gentle words, cuddles, and a soothing environment to help them calm down. It is also important to address any underlying emotional triggers and provide support to help your child manage their emotions effectively.

Also Read: Why Does My Child Never Go to Sleep?


Passing out when crying, or breath-holding spells, can be a distressing experience for both the child and the parent. Understanding the possible causes and triggers can help parents better manage and respond to these episodes. By providing a safe environment, addressing any underlying factors, and seeking medical guidance when necessary, parents can support their child through breath-holding spells and ensure their well-being.

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