When a child has difficulty breathing as a result of illness or allergic reaction, it’s common that a physician will prescribe a breathing treatment for them. To determine if your child is in need of breathing treatments, it’s important to know as much as you can about them.

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What Are Breathing Treatments?

Helping to reduce swelling or inflammation in the lungs, breathing treatments are normally given as a nebulizer. During a treatment, your child will inhale medication in a mist form—a very painless and effective process. On occasion, breathing treatments aren’t effective. When this occurs, a respiratory inhaler or intravenous medication may be recommended.  


What Are The Benefits Of Breathing Treatment?

If your child suffers from asthma or other respiratory issues, breathing treatments (also known as a nebulizer) can have great benefits. Nebulizers, which deliver liquid or aerosol medications that can help your child to breathe, are usually given via a mask or mouthpiece. So what exactly are the benefits of breathing treatments for children?


1. Medication Delivery

When a child needs mediation delivered directly to his or her lungs, a nebulizer is often used to deliver it. Systemic medications often take some time to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and into your child’s bloodstream. However, breathing treatments can help deliver medication directly to the respiratory tract.

2. Respiratory Problem Prevention

In some instances, nebulizers are used as prevention for respiratory problems. When taken on a daily basis, long-term bronchodilators can help keep the bronchial tubes open.

3. Few Side Effects

Unlike many other medications, nebulizer therapy creates fewer side effects than oral administration of the same medication. Oral medication often results in headaches, tremors and rapid heartbeat. Additionally, nebulizers can reduce side effects that are common to steroids, such as high blood pressure, high blood glucose and susceptibility to infection.

4. Easy To Use

Unlike inhalers, nebulizers require very little effort, with the treatment flowing continuously. Inhalers, on the other hand, require breathing in when the medication is released. Also, the new, smaller design of nebulizers makes them easy to carry around. Taking between five and 10 minutes to fully deliver a dose of medication, nebulizers are also fairly quick.

When Are Breathing Treatments Needed?


When an environmental stimulus forces the bronchioles of the lungs to tighten, asthma occurs, causing your child to have trouble moving air in and out of the lungs. This often results in wheezing and an increased breathing rate.


Typically the result of a virus, croup is a condition that forces the airways to narrow. Studies show that croup can often result from illnesses like parainfluenza or influenza. During croup, the small airways of the lungs swell causing noisy breathing called stridor.

Allergic reactions

If your child has a life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, his or her breathing passage will swell to the point where breathing is a challenge.

Lung infections

Viral infections, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia are all lung infections that may require breathing treatments, depending on the severity of the infection.

Sleep apnea

While it’s normal to experience brief pauses in breathing throughout the night, stops in breathing for longer periods of time, called sleep apnea, can create problems. Typically sleep apnea causes disruption, behavior and learning issues, and, in rare cases, can be life-threatening.


What Happens During A Breathing Treatment?

The first time your child is given a breathing treatment will be by a doctor; however, the nurse or doctor should teach you how to administer the treatment at home. During your child’s breathing treatment, he or she will inhale medications using a nebulizer device. This device converts liquid medication into an easy-to-inhale mist, which makes it ideal for young children.

Typically a breathing treatment takes 10 to 30 minutes. During the treatment, your child will wear a mask that is attached to the nebulizer and inhale slowly. He or she should continue to take deep breaths into the mask until the liquid medication is gone.


What If Your Child Resists The Treatments?

Infants and young children have a tendency to fight having the mask put on their face. When this happens, something called a blow-by nebulizer treatment can be used. With this type of nebulizer treatment, the mask is not placed directly on the face, so it’s less irritating to the child. With this type of treatment, the medication is still directed at the nose. The only negative part of this treatment is that the blow-by mask isn’t tight fitting, so the child receives less medication.


Are There Side Effects From Breathing Treatments?

Unless your child inhales more medication than is recommended, there are rarely any complications from breathing treatments. Although very rare, serious allergic reactions may occur. These reactions often include difficulty breathing, tightness of the chest, rash and hives.

The medication used for the breathing treatments does occasionally cause side effects, including:


  • Nasal congestion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headache
  • Decreased sense of taste
  • Irritated throat
  • Jitteriness or trembling
  • Lightheadedness

How To Prepare For Breathing Treatments

Before your child begins breathing treatments, it’s important that you are fully informed on the prescription. Because each treatment is tailored specifically for individual patients, you should never “guess” on your child’s dosage. When at the doctor’s office, consider asking the following questions:

  • How often will the breathing treatments need to be administered?
  • When should the breathing treatments begin?
  • How long should each treatment last?
  • How should you handle any other medications your child may take?
  • Should there be a follow-up appointment?

Depending on the severity of your child’s respiratory problems, a doctor may prescribe additional treatments or procedures. These can include: allergy testing, chest x-ray, IV antibiotics, pulmonary lung function tests and supplemental oxygen.


Breathing treatments usually result in fast improvement of difficulty breathing. If you believe your child is in need of a breathing treatment, talk with your pediatrician. In a medical emergency, always call 911 or visit your closest ER immediately.


Doctors at Medical City Children’s Hospital Urgent Care can also help you learn all of your treatment options to find what’s best for your child. Our kid-focused facility is designed exclusively to care for children 7 days a week - even after hours and on weekends.

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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.