A cry to take your breath away

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Today we are talking about affective spasms, a little known phenomenon that can frighten parents a lot. What is it about? It is a benign phenomenon that affects about 5% of the pediatric population between 6 months and 4 years of age '. During an episode of intense emotion, such as strong opposition to the parent or an argument with siblings, a fall or a small injury, the child cries and holds his breath. This leads to him becoming cyanotic (blue, especially around the lips and extremities) or very pale and, in severe cases, losing consciousness. However, after a few seconds the baby regains consciousness and returns to breathe normally. Attending these episodes scares the parents a lot, especially the first time, but in reality the emotional spasms do not lead to particular consequences. There is no brain damage and they tend to disappear with age. As previously mentioned, the trigger is great anger or a fright, so what can be useful is to try to avoid extreme conflicts. This does not mean letting the child free to behave as he wants, but simply trying to shift his attention to something else before the situation gets too heated. Although we may think that this behavior is a way for the child to attract the attention of the adult, it is good to know the emotional spasm is not something intentional and cannot be controlled. During the crisis, it is possible to try to blow on the child's face, in some cases this can be useful to stop apnea. Pamper and reassure the baby when he has recovered and promptly resume the activities you were doing, without giving too much importance to what happened. The diagnosis is usually made by the pediatrician or neuropsychiatrist based on the parents' story, and no specialist tests are required. In some cases, an EKG (electroencephalogram) might be done to rule out seizures. Once the diagnosis is made it is important to warn all those who will take care of the child, from grandparents to teachers by providing all the necessary information and reassuring them.


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