Breathlessness during exercise | Respiratory distress in children

Breathlessness during exercise

Breathlessness in children can occur in different everyday situations and have very different causes. In many cases, increasing shortness of breath occurs mainly under physical stress, such as during sports activities. Unathletic children who do not exercise much start panting and gasping for air even at low exertion.

On the other hand, children who exercise regularly have greater stamina and get out of breath more slowly. Heavy physical exertion can lead to a narrowing of the bronchial tubes, as they slowly begin to contract. The airways become narrower and this can lead to a restriction of air exchange.

In order to counteract the shortness of breath, the affected children make increased use of their respiratory assistance muscles. The difficulty in breathing can be recognised by nostrils and retractions in the spaces between the ribs. If children experience frequent shortness of breath during sports activities, a medical examination should be carried out.

This is because shortness of breath can also be the result of lung or heart disease, as well as congenital malformations of the child’s upper and lower respiratory tract. Increasing shortness of breath during sports activities can also indicate an asthma disease of the child. The constriction of the bronchi caused by exertion in this case leads to an increase in resistance in the airways and makes it more difficult to breathe out air. In addition to strong physical exertion, cold air or inhalation of allergens from the environment can also trigger such an attack.

Exertional respiratory distress

Breathlessness on exertion can indicate a disease of the respiratory tract or even the heart in children. Heart failure is less common in children than in adults, but may also be congenital due to a genetic defect or malformation. Children who suffer from shortness of breath, exhaustion and tiredness even at low physical activity levels should be examined for possible heart failure.

Under physical exertion, however, breathing difficulties in children usually occur as a result of asthmatic illness. This is a chronic inflammation of the airways, which leads to increased sensitivity of the airways to various external stimuli. The chronic irritation leads to a narrowing of the airways, which is significantly increased, especially under stress, and can lead to shortness of breath, with acute shortness of breath, whistling breathing and a feeling of tightness in the chest. The acute shortness of breath triggers a fear of suffocation in children. Again, this anxiety can further increase the shortness of breath.

Respiratory distress due to coughing

Breathlessness, which occurs as a result of coughing or in combination with coughing in children, can also have various causes. Children who suffer from a recurring, long-lasting, chronic cough can very quickly swallow small objects unnoticed. These can be small play figures, for example, but also marbles, pearls or even nuts.

Children like to put objects in their mouths that are swallowed by a coughing attack, get stuck in the draining airways and misplace them. In this case it can lead to acute, rapidly increasing shortness of breath, which in the worst case can lead to suffocation or acute respiratory arrest. For this reason, if there is the slightest suspicion of a foreign body, an endoscopy of the airways should always be performed with the possibility of removing the foreign body.