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What to do if your child faints

Fainting, medically known as syncope, typically occurs in children during their pre-teen and teen years, and is typically not dangerous.

Did you know that as many as one in four healthy children and teens have fainted at some point?

Although seeing your child faint is scary, the good news is that often a fainting episode is not the result of a life-threatening condition. After fainting, most children recover quickly, usually in less than a minute, and don’t have any long-term health consequences.

What causes a normally developing child to faint?

Fainting most commonly occurs in otherwise healthy children when there is a transient decrease in the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain (blood pressure).

The most prevalent cause of fainting in children is dehydration. Not drinking enough fluids, especially in hot weather or warm spaces, can diminish blood volume and lower blood pressure.

Strong feelings in response to pain, stress, or something frightening can cause the region of the brain that regulates blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate to abruptly shift gears and become out of rhythm, causing a child to faint.

Breathing spells can also cause fainting.  Breathing spells are typical in young toddlers who are having temper tantrums or are in discomfort. Breathing spells (when a child holds their breath) are usually harmless, and most children outgrow them by the age of six.

What are some of the warning signs and symptoms that precede fainting?

There are several warning indicators about 5 to 10 seconds before fainting, including:

  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • A surge of warmth and sweating
  • Sudden chills
  • Changes in vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Pale or ashy complexion
  • Increased heart rate (called tachycardia)

What to do if a child faints

  1. Try to catch and ease the child to the floor if possible.
  2. Have the child lie down and elevate both legs for 10 minutes.
  3. If the child has food in their mouth, flip them on their side with their face directed toward the floor to prevent them from choking.
  4. Call an ambulance if the child doesn’t wake up after a few minutes, has fallen and is injured, fainted unexpectedly after taking medication, fainted after being stuck by a bee, or has difficulties breathing, speaking, or moving?

Is fainting a symptom of a more serious medical condition?

Fainting can be an indication of an underlying health problem or disease in some circumstances, such as:

Iron-deficiency: Anaemia occurs when there is insufficient iron in the blood to transport enough oxygen to the brain.

Internal bruising: A strike to the head (concussion) or the stomach.

Diabetes: Fainting can occur as a result of a sudden reduction in blood sugar.

Eating disorders: Fainting can occur due to dehydration, low blood sugar, and changes in blood pressure or circulation induced by fasting, vomiting, or excessive exercise in anorexia and bulimia.

Heart problems: Fainting can be caused by irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmia) or anatomical issues (heart or valve).

How is more severe fainting identified and treated?

Your paediatrician may refer your child to a paediatric cardiologist if they faint on multiple occasions or if there are indicators of a more serious medical condition.

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