Panic Attacks In Children - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Panic Attacks In Children

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Parents often misconstrue panic attacks as normal behavioral changes, and the physical symptoms of panic attacks are often unnoticed. However, did you know that even your little one could suffer from panic attacks? As incredible as it sounds, it’s true! Many children suffer from panic attacks, which can escalate to anxiety and depression.

So, if your little one suffers from persistent anxiety and depression, and he is unable to concentrate on anything, reading the post can be a great idea! Here, we look at the causes and symptoms of panic attacks in children, and how you can help your little one overcome the condition!

What Is A Panic Attack?

Most children usually experience pain attacks in the form of a sudden rush of fear along with physical feelings (tightness of the chest, excessive sweating, tingling, light-headedness or heart beating faster than usual). During a panic attack, your child may experience negative mental emotions, or he may be afraid of dying.

You can easily discern a panic attack by the intense fear that it leads to, and your child experiences mild to severe discomfort. Some common discomforts that your child may experience are trembling and shaking, chest pains, hot flashes or chills, upset stomach and difficulty breathing. Your child’s body temperature may fall suddenly, and he starts staring at the objects with an intensely fixed gaze. Your child may experience panic attacks for around 10-15 minutes, and it seems to be the most stressful phase of your little one’s life (1).

[ Read: Fears And Phobias In Children ]

Facts About Panic Attacks In Children:

Here are some interesting facts about panic attacks in children:

  • Your child can experience a panic attack at any time. Whether he has a family history of anxiety or depression, it does not matter at all.
  • Some common physical symptoms of panic attack in children include nausea or stomach pain, fear of dying, sweating, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and numbness or tingling.
  • Your child experiences the physical symptoms abruptly, and the attack usually lasts for a few seconds to half an hour, but normally it’s about 10 minutes.
  • Some children also experience Nocturnal panic attacks that startle him out of his sleep. The symptoms of such attacks are shaking, excessive sweating and intense chest pain.
  • Children suffering from the mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder are at a high risk of experiencing panic attacks in their life.
  • Some medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sleep disorder, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) also elevate the chances of panic attacks in children.
  • Regular exercise and the intake of healthy nutrients have a profound impact on your child’s lifestyle choice and minimizes the risk of panic attacks.
  • Researchers conclude that, if you keep your depressed child engaged in a regular exercise program, it reduces the feelings of anxiety-related tension and stress. As a result, your child can resist the frequency of panic attacks.
  • Your diet plays a crucial role in elevating the risk of panic attacks in children. Studies reveal the fact that certain foods trigger the onset of anxiety and other panic attack symptoms in children. Such food list includes alcohol, caffeine, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Panic attacks in children can occur both suddenly and expectedly. Expected panic attacks in children occur when your child gets provoked by certain cues or triggers. For example, if your child has a fear of water, height or dark room he can experience the expected panic attack. Unexpected panic attacks in children occur suddenly when your child goes through anxious and fearful thoughts.
  • The different types of anti-depression and anxiety controlling medications are available in the market that lessens the onset of panic attacks in children.
  • Children, who have already gone through panic attacks need to make some lifestyle changes like regular exercising, avoid intake of caffeine or illicit drugs and practice stress-management techniques.

[ Read: How To Deal With Anxiety In Children ]

Causes Of Panic Attacks In Children:

Here are some of the major factors to trigger the onset of panic attacks in children:

1. Genetics:

  • Panic attacks in children are often hereditary and usually, run in families.
  • If either of the parents were a victim of depression, anxiety disorder or panic attacks, your child is at a higher risk.

2. Severe Stress:

  • Stress is one of the underlying causes to impose panic attacks in children.
  • Your child may feel stressed out due to the educational pressure or the social environment.
  • As a result, your child becomes a victim of panic disorder at an early age.

3. Negative Emotions:

  • Sudden negative feelings like the fear of losing or lack of confidence often can imbalance your child’s temperament. He becomes more prone to negative emotions like depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety.
  • Stressful events and major life transitions like the sudden death of any close family member can also trigger panic attacks in children.

4. Certain Medical Conditions:

  • When your child suffers from diseases like asthma or heart disease, the side-effects of the medications (steroid and asthma inhalers) often cause anxiety and panic attacks (2).

[ Read: Understanding Child Psychology ]

Symptoms Of Panic Attacks In Children:

The episodes of panic attacks are extremely stressful and frightening for both parents and the victim child. Some common physical and emotional panic attack symptoms in children include:

  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
  • Fear of death or losing control
  • A feeling that the world is unreal
  • An intense desire to flee
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Stomach upset
  • Heart palpitations or a racing heart
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Chest pain or discomfort (3)

Right after a panic attack, which usually lasts for around ten minutes your child feels the intense fear of another attack.

[ Read: How To Improve Concentration In Kids ]

Risk Factors Of Panic Attacks In Children:

Some common risk factors for panic disorders in children typically include:

  • Having a family history of anxiety disorders or mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.
  • Being a victim of respiratory problems like asthma.
  • Already had a previous, unexpected episode of panic attacks.
  • Taking medications for asthma and heart disease, on a regular basis.
  • Drinking higher amounts of caffeine or caffeinated products.
  • Researchers conclude that extremely shy children who are more likely to face bullies in social life are at a higher risk for experiencing panic attacks.
  • Traumatic events often trigger anxiety disorders and depression; it usually results in panic attacks in children.
  • Specific traumatic events in childhood like child abuse or specific phobias trigger childhood panic attacks in children (4).

Diagnosing Panic Attacks In Children:

The diagnosis of panic attacks and disorder in children occurs through proper identification of the physical symptoms. The doctor interrogates your child about any physical changes and tests for the presence of psychiatric disorders like OCD and PTSD.

The professional diagnoses the panic disorder in children when the attacks are recurrent and unexpected (5).

Treating Panic Attacks In Children:

Some common treatment methods for panic attacks in children include:

1. Psychotherapy:

  • The doctor advises your child to start the cognitive behavioral therapy immediately.
  • The effective therapy reduces the negative emotions and helps in boosting your child’s self-esteem and confidence level.
  • Another common form of treatment for panic attacks in children include the exposure therapy. It reduces the symptoms of anxiety through gradual exposure to difficult situations.
  • In exposure therapy, your child gets direct exposure to the panic situations in a safe and controlled environment. The therapy teaches your child to learn the healthier ways of coping.

2. Pharmacological:

  • Doctors prescribe various classes of drugs for treating panic attacks in children. Medications may offer temporary relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety, but your child needs to make certain lifestyle changes as well.
  • The medications used for panic attacks include antidepressants and Benzodiazepines.
  • Your child needs to intake the prescribed dosage of antidepressant to minimize the risk of panic attack.
  • Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety drugs, which are quick in action. Intake of the particular mediation during a panic attack provides instant relief from the stressful symptoms. However, the medications are highly addictive and can impose withdrawal effects on your little one.


Always take the antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs, after consulting the physician (6).

[ Read: Tips To Manage Stress In Children ]

When To Seek Medical Assistance?

Here are some of the conditions for which your child needs medical attention immediately:

  • When your child experiences terrible chest pain, heart palpitations, breathing problems and feels faint, it is advisable to take him to the doctor immediately.
  • If the panic attack has already occurred in your child’s life and he is living in severe fear and mental distress, you need to take him to a psychiatrist.
  • When the panic attacks occur in your child’s life with some other behavioral or psychological problems like depression, self-harm, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating and deterioration in school performance.
  • When your child has gone through an extremely fearful phase in life like child abuse or a devastating accident.
  • Fortunately, persistent panic attacks in children are successfully treated with regular counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation or light exercises (7).

How To Help Your Child?

Here are some common tips to help your child feel confident and lead a healthy life:

  • Remember that your child may feel a sense of uncontrollable and irrational terror and you need to handle the situation wisely.
  • Stay calm and help your child overcome his fears through proper relaxation and self-help tips. While instructing your child, never raise your voice tone or impose an aggressive body language. You should handle the complete situation in a calm and peaceful manner.
  • Never slap or argue with your victim child. Be confident and help him overcome his fear positively.
  • Explain to him that the situation of anxiety and depression occurs in everyone’s life. They should never fear of the negative outcomes, but face the traumatic life-events in a positive manner.
  • If you notice some behavioral changes in your child’s life, do not hesitate to ask about the situation frankly. Ask if, if anything is bothering or frightening him or not. But never interrogate him in a harsh tone.
  • Use affirming language like, “Everything will be fine” and “ I am always there to help you”.
  • Explain to your child that the symptoms of panic attacks are not life-threatening.
  • Help them to leave the situation, that trigger or provokes the panic attack. Instead, make your child go to somewhere peaceful and quiet place.
  • Try to distract your child, by talking about normal things in life.
  • Make your victim child practice the slow deep breathing techniques, through yoga asanas.
  • When your child feels dizzy, help him to sit or lie down in a safe position.
  • Stay with your victim child, until the situation of panic disorder comes totally into control. It is because, if the episode of panic attack triggers suddenly during driving or crossing roads, the whole situation can turn worse (8).

Overcoming A Panic Attack:

  • Talk to your child about their episodes of panic attacks openly and explain to them that their feelings are quite normal. Reassure that, as a parent, you will always be there to offer the requisite help.
  • After the condition is under total control, inquire your child calmly the reasons that make him feel anxious and depressed.
  • Keep a close note about how often the panic attacks occurs in your child’s life and get requisite medical assistance from the specialist.
  • Enquire your child, if he feels some obvious stress in life like exams. Bullying, results.
  • Explain to your victim child that the physical symptoms of panic attacks are the normal reaction of anxiety and stress. They should never have the misconception of death or losing the life during a panic attack.
  • Help your kid practice different types of relaxation techniques through reading magazines, watching relaxation training tapes and CDs and by attending relaxation/yoga classes.
  • Restrict your child from excessive intake of stimulants like tea, coffee, and soft drinks.
  • Suggest your child to practice healthy exercises regularly to normalize the heart beat rate and overcome breathing difficulty.
  • Teach your child the different ways of coping with stress and worry in life (9).

Did your little one suffer from panic attacks? How did you deal with such situations? Share some tips with us here!

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