No treatment is usually necessary. Children who have breath holding spells do not have epilepsy or brain damage.
Avoiding situations that provoke temper tantrums can help reduce the number of spells your child has. Placing a cold cloth on your child’s forehead during the spell may shorten the episode.
Breath holding spells that do not cause the child to become unconscious are best ignored, in the same way temper tantrums are ignored. See also: Temper tantrums for more information about how to react to breath holding spells.
If your child has an iron deficiency, you should start iron replacement treatment.
When a spell occurs, be sure that your child is in a safe place where he or she won’t be hurt during a fall or a brief seizure. After the spell, try to be calm and avoid giving too much attention to the child, because this can reinforce the behaviors that lead to the breath holding spells.
Affected children outgrow breath holding spells by ages 4 – 8. Even children who have a seizure after losing consciousness do not seem to have an increased risk for seizure disorders.
The biggest risk is injury, especially head injury, due to a fall during a spell.
Calling Your Health Care Provider
Call your health care provider if your child exhibits breath holding behaviors, especially if this is a new behavior for the child or if the child does this frequently.
If your child stops breathing or has convulsions for more than a minute, call 911 or your local emergency number for immediate medical help.
Review Date : 11/2/2009
Reviewed By : Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.