Wheezing & Breathing Difficulties

Look at the Signs

Any kind of breathing difficulty your infant or child experiences can be scary for parents. It may be nothing to worry about and could just be normal baby ‘snuffles’. Use your instincts with newborns and babies. It could be:

  • Rapid breathing or panting, which is common. There is no other sign of illness, it comes and goes and your baby is breathing comfortably most of the time, there is normally no need to worry.
  • Breathing may sound a bit rattly. Try holding your baby upright.
  • Occasional, coughing or choking which may occur when a baby takes in milk too quickly with feeds. Try to slow things down a bit. Check feeding position.
  • A cold or mild cough. Keep an eye on them at this stage and use your instincts. If you are worried talk to your Health Visitor or call NHS 111.

In older babies and toddlers you may notice:

  • Coughing, runny nose, mild temperature – (see Coughs & colds).
  • On-going Croup (hoarse voice, barking cough) needs to be assessed by a Doctor and may need further treatment. Mild Croup can be treated at home.  Try junior Paracetamol if your child is in discomfort or distress, give lots of water to drink and allow them to breathe in steam from a hot bowl of water or bath (with supervision).

If you are worried even after reading this, contact your GP or call 999 immediately.

You need to contact your GP immediately if your baby or toddler:

  •   Seems to find breathing hard work and they are sucking in their ribs and tummy.
  • Their chest looks like it is ‘caving in.’
  • They appear pale or even slightly blue-ish.
  • They can’t complete a full sentence without stopping to take a breath or seem breathless with a heaving chest.

If your child has a runny nose and cough but also has rapid breathing and difficulty feeding or is vomiting, it may be Bronchiolitis. Even though most cases of Bronchiolitis are not serious, these symptoms can be very worrying for parents. Contact your GP If your child has symptoms of Bronchiolitis. This is particularly important if your baby is under 12 weeks. Call 999 if your child has severe breathing difficulties or exhaustion from trying to breathe.


Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory tract infection that affects babies and young children under two years old. The early symptoms are similar to those of a common cold and include a runny nose and cough.

As it develops, the symptoms of Bronchiolitis can include: a slight fever, a dry and persistent cough and difficulty feeding.

Most babies/children with Bronchiolitis get better within about two weeks and in most cases the illness is not serious. The cough may go on for a few more weeks. There is usually no need to see your GP if they are recovering well. However, contact your GP if your child is only able to feed half the normal amount or is struggling to breathe, or if you are generally worried about them. (Source: www.nhs.uk/conditions/Bronchiolitis)