Why Your Child Might Be Making Grunting Noises

If your child is grunting, it may be a sign of breathing problems

If you notice your child is grunting, it may be a sign that he or she is having trouble breathing. By grunting, your child can raise the pressure in their lungs more than they can from a normal breath thereby getting more air into their lungs. Other kids do a similar thing by sighing, which can also be a sign of asthma. Other experts have found these kinds of sighing breaths in people with well-controlled asthma.

So what is causing your child to have this grunting pattern of breathing? Without them having other symptoms, like coughing and wheezing, it can be hard to tell. If you are concerned about any noises your child might be making, take them to the pediatrician. Your child's pediatrician can help rule out or diagnose conditions like asthma or croup. 

Signs of Breathing Difficulties

Other signs or symptoms that a child may be having trouble breathing, also known as respiratory distress, include:

  • A fast breathing rate (tachypnea)
  • Cyanosis, with a bluish discoloration of a child's skin
  • Nasal flaring
  • Retractions, with a child's chest sinking in just below her neck and/or beneath her ribs
  • Wheezing, a tight musical or whistling sound that may be heard when a child breaths in or out
  • Stridor: a harsh, high-pitched sound that is heard when a child, usually with croup, breaths in
  • A non-stop cough

These signs can be seen in children with pneumonia, asthma, croup, and other lung problems.

Another cause of grunting could be due to food caught in your child's lungs. If your child recently choked on something, like a piece of popcorn or a peanut, it could have gotten stuck in the lungs. If you are concerned this may have happened, check with your child's doctor.

Grunting Unrelated to Breathing Problems

If your child's grunting persists, does not seem related to breathing, and comes with other tic-like symptoms and repetitive movements, it could be a sign of Tourette syndrome.

Tourette syndrome is a neurological condition which causes people to repeat movements, make noises, and perform other tic behaviors. While some people can minimize or suppress their tics, tics are involuntary and largely out of control. In most cases, Tourette syndrome is diagnosed in childhood and is more common among boys. If your child does have Tourette syndrome, medications and psychological therapies can help keep their symptoms in check. 

Even without other symptoms, you likely should see your pediatrician to make sure your child is in good health. They might order a chest x-ray, which can provide clues as to why your child is having difficulties. If your pediatrician is unclear what might be causing the grunting and it persists, an evaluation by a pediatric pulmonologist, a child lung specialist, might also be helpful. If their doctor suspects Tourette syndrome, they might recommend a consult with a pediatric neurologist. 

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