Children with Breathing Difficulties - Self-help

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 17 Jun 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 17 Jun 2017

Always act quickly and get medical help if you are worried about your child, especially if they are having any difficulty with breathing, seem to be getting worse or aren't getting any better.

Most infections will clear up by themselves. However, there are lots of things you can do to help your child be more comfortable and to help them to feel better more quickly. These include:

  • Encourage them to drink as much as they can. This often means drinking little and often. Cool water is best. Drinking lots of fluid will help to:
    • Prevent their body becoming too dry (dehydrated).
    • Keep them cool.
    • Keep the mucus moist and easier to cough up.
    • Stop their throat from feeling really dry and sore.
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen if your child is in pain or has a high temperature (fever). They can be used together if needed.
  • Make sure your child is in a comfortable and calm environment. This includes giving reassurance, keeping them cool and keeping them well away from any cigarette smoke.


Unless your child has asthma or any other ongoing breathing (respiratory) condition, the only medicines needed are usually paracetamol or ibuprofen. Most infections in children are caused by viruses and so antibiotics aren't needed. Cough medicines don't work so aren't recommended.

Preventing the infection spreading to other people

This is very important, especially if you have other children. Important measures to reduce the spread of infection include:

  • Make sure everyone washes their hands regularly.
  • Use clean disposable tissues to remove any infected mucus when your child has been sneezing or coughing. Then put the used tissue in a bin and wash your hands thoroughly.

Further reading and references

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