Dr Mark Rosenthal


Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

If your child is a noisy breather, it can be extremely worrisome to hear them struggling for breath night after night. However, many causes of noisy breathing are temporary or aren’t a cause for major concern. Sometimes, noisy breathing may indicate a bigger problem, so it is important to keep an eye on them.

Child’s Noisy Breathing

What Causes Noisy Breathing in Children?

Noisy breathing is common in children and has a wide range of causes: from the common cold to obstructive sleep apnoea.

Respiratory infection

A viral or bacterial infection that affects the airway can cause temporary noisy breathing. This should resolve once the infection clears up, so it’s not usually a cause for concern. See your GP if the symptoms don’t go away once the infection is resolved.

Airway spasm

Children with asthma may have noisy breathing due to airway spasms that occur as a result of their asthma. This can also happen if there are irritants in the air or environment.

If you suspect asthma may be causing your child’s noisy breathing, talk to your doctor about possible solutions. They might suggest a change in asthma medication.

Solving an environmental problem may require purchasing an air purifier or using another method to remove irritants from the air.

External airway compression

Sometimes, noisy breathing can be caused if an external structure puts pressure on the airway and compresses it. In this case, the solution might be as easy as a change in sleeping position.

A child who is overweight or obese may have noisy breathing due to external compression. This can also be a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnoea. Solving this problem can be complicated. It’s best to approach weight issues in a relaxed and non-judgmental way, as shaming a child for being overweight is counterproductive, and puts them at risk of developing an eating disorder. Focus on promoting good eating and exercise habits, and avoid punishing poor ones.

External airway compression can sometimes be caused by other body structures that are pressing on the airway. In this situation it might mean a more involved diagnostic process, and perhaps surgery to fix the problem.

Narrow airway

Sometimes, the airway is simply narrower than normal. For instance, this occurs in a condition called subglottic stenosis. A child can be born with this condition, or it might develop after birth due to an injury or respiratory infection.

Subglottic stenosis can be treated by widening the airway, either with a balloon-type device, or with surgery.

Obstructive sleep apnoea

In children, this can be caused by large tonsils or adenoids. It may also be caused by an abnormal swelling or growth in the respiratory tract.

This can be a cause for concern, as obstructive sleep apnoea disrupts sleep and can cause the child to have trouble with learning or their behaviour. Children with obstructive sleep apnoea may need surgery to remove the troublesome tonsils or adenoids.

See Your Doctor for Advice

If you’re concerned at any point about your child’s health, make an appointment with your GP. Once the problem is diagnosed, your GP can likely suggest a solution that helps your child sleep more easily.

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