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Panic Attack in Children
A panic attack
is a strong feeling of fear or discomfort. The attack starts suddenly, is worst 10 minutes after it starts, and stops within 20 minutes. An attack may be triggered by something your child does, such as public speaking. Exposure to something he or she is afraid of can also trigger an attack. A panic attack can also happen for no clear reason. Frequent panic attacks may be a sign of a panic disorder that needs long-term treatment.
Common signs and symptoms of a panic attack:
- Chest pain
- Sweating or trembling
- Fast or irregular heartbeats
- Hyperventilation (breathing so quickly your child becomes dizzy, lightheaded, or faint)
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or a feeling that your child is choking or smothering
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Pale or cold skin, chills, or hot flashes
- Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
- Feeling separate from his or her body
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
Your child has any of the following signs of a heart attack:
- Squeezing, pressure, or pain in his or her chest
- and any of the following:
- Discomfort or pain in his or her back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
Call your child's pediatrician or therapist if:
- Your child has new or worsening panic attacks after treatment.
- You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.
may include any of the following:
- Medicines may be given to make your child feel more relaxed or to reduce anxiety that causes a panic attack. Some medicines are taken only when your child is having a panic attack. Other medicines can be taken to prevent panic attacks. Medicines are usually used along with therapy or other treatments.
- Behavior therapy can help your child learn to control how his or her body responds to stressful situations. A therapist may also teach your child ways to relax muscles and slow breathing during a panic attack. He or she may teach your child ways to know that the panic attack will not get worse. Your child may also learn ways to prevent or stop hyperventilation.
- Exposure therapy is used to help your child change his or her reaction to triggers. Your child is exposed to triggers in small amounts. The amount of exposure is slowly increased until it no longer triggers a panic attack.
Manage or prevent a panic attack:
- Help your child manage stress. Stress can trigger a panic attack. Help your child talk about the stress he or she feels. Offer support and encouragement. Your child may need help finding a solution to a problem. He or she may also just need to talk.
- Encourage your child to be physically active. Physical activity, such as exercise, can reduce stress and help your child sleep better. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Your child's healthcare provider can help you create an exercise plan.
- Set a sleep schedule. Too little sleep can increase anxiety. Have your child go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Keep your child's room quiet and free from distractions, such as a television or computer.
- Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and beans. Limit sugar. Sugar can increase your child's symptoms.
- Do not let your child have foods or drinks that contain caffeine. These include coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine can make anxiety worse or trigger a panic attack.
- Talk to your adolescent about not smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase anxiety. Ask your adolescent's healthcare provider for information if he or she currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your adolescent's healthcare provider before he or she uses these products.
Follow up with your child's pediatrician or therapist as directed:
Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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