The Dangers of Retracted Breathing :: Must Know Signs


The scariest moment of my life happened this summer. My child stopped breathing. The look of sheer panic on her face will forever be etched in my memory. Retracted breathing is very serious, and it’s important to be educated on what it is and what it looks like.

We were on our way to the urgent care at UNMH because I noticed my toddler had slight signs of retracted breathing with a tight-chested cough. I didn’t want to take any chances because we had been through this several times before. I was well aware that this could end up being an ER visit, but I started second-guessing myself. Maybe I was overreacting.

Note to self, mama. You are NOT overreacting.

Within 10 minutes of our car ride, she couldn’t catch her breath. For a brief moment, she turned red, her eyes were wide with panic while she kicked and flailed her arms. I threw my car into park. I  jumped into the back seat and tried to dial 911. My screen was frozen. It wouldn’t dial. We were two blocks from the ER. And we were both panicking.

God must have reached down to help clear her chest because she started puking and finally started to breathe again. But it didn’t sound good.

I literally slammed on the gas and sped all the way to the ER. My phone was on the floor with 911 asking if I was okay. I was definitely not okay. We made it to the ER in seconds.

dangers of retracted breathing

I am not sure if you know what retracted breathing is or what respiratory distress looks like, but there are varying signs depending on what your child may be experiencing.

Here is a list of some of the signs that could indicate that your child may be in danger of respiratory distress:

  • Increased breathing rate – this may indicate that she is having trouble breathing or not getting enough oxygen.
  • Color changes – A bluish color around your child’s mouth, on the inside of her lips, or on her fingernails may occur when she is not getting enough oxygen. Her skin may also appear pale or gray.
  • Grunting – You may hear a grunting sound each time your child exhales. The grunting is her body’s way of trying to keep air in the lungs so they will stay open.
  • Noseflaring – If your child’s nostrils spread open while she breathes, she may be having to work harder to breathe.
  • Retractions – Our child’s chest will appear to sink in just below the neck or under her breastbone with each breath. This is another way of trying to bring more air into her lungs.
  • Sweating – There may be an increase of sweat on your child’s head, but without his skin feeling warm to the touch. More often, his skin will feel cool or clammy. This may happen when his breathing rate is very fast.
  • Wheezing – If you hear a tight, whistling, or musical sound each time your child breathes, this may indicate that the air passages are smaller, which makes it harder to breathe.

Please check it out on YouTube if you have no idea what retracted breathing looks like. Respiratory distress is NOT something you want to wait around to observe. It should always be an immediate trip to the hospital!

We have been dealing with upper respiratory issues with our little one from the very beginning. I brought her in so many times to urgent care only to be told to bring her back home, turn on the humidifier, and prop her up for better breathing. I have been told time and time again: “It’s the season.” “She’s in daycare.” “She’s building her immunity.” “Make sure you keep giving her lots of fluids. This will probably last another month or two.”

While this advice is valid and good, there was something more going on. I knew something wasn’t right. I kept going back, and I will keep going back.

Not once did I give up sharing with any and every doctor that would listen that I strongly believed my toddler had asthma. Not once did I give up mentioning that I felt she had allergies.

And sure enough, after this very scary ER visit, she has finally been diagnosed with asthma. Her doctor reassured me that all my guesswork and all my own allergy trials with her at home paid off. She is now on allergy meds, and she has a prescribed inhaler.

Don’t ever give up on that gut feeling you have for your children. You know them better than anyone! Keep fighting, mama bear.

I am forever grateful that we made it in time to the ER. I am grateful that we had a team of doctors that listened to my concerns and were willing to try the asthma treatments.

And I’m also definitely scarred for life with this episode. But I sure hope my baby will only remember that feeling that her mama fought hard to help her breathe again.

On our way out of the hospital after three days of being weaned off of high flow oxygen, our little two year old hopped from her room all the way to the elevator shouting, “PEACE OUT!” to all the nurses on staff. She’s been hopping around ever since.

Originally published July 2019.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.


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