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The Dangers of Underwater Breath Holding for Children

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

Being in the water is one of the highlights of the summer for most children. Whether it is at a pool, beach or lake, they will find a way to have fun and play games. One of the most popular water games is holding breath competitions. Most of us played these games as children, always wanting to push a little bit further than our friends to claim the title of "breath holding champion". However, after recent studies, it's important to understand the risks associated with this practice. Breath holding can lead to fainting, seizure, and even brain damage. In some cases, it can be fatal.

Here's what you need to know about the dangers of breath holding in children.

What is Breath Holding?

Breath holding is a reflex that can be triggered by pain, fear, or frustration. It can also be a fun game in the water. When a child holds their breath, their heart rate slows and they may faint. In some cases, they may also have a seizure. Though it may seem like a harmless way for your child to attempt to get attention or even just an innocent game, breath holding can have serious consequences.

Holding your breath underwater can be dangerous for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it can put strain on your heart and lungs. When you hold your breath, your heart rate increases and your blood pressure rises. This can put a lot of strain on your cardiovascular system and might even lead to a heart attack. When your heart rate increases, it means your heart is working harder to pump blood throughout your body. This can put strain on your heart and lead to a number of health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke.

Additionally, when your blood pressure rises, it puts extra stress on your arteries and can damage their delicate lining. This damage can lead to atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of arteries. Atherosclerosis can lead to a number of serious health complications, such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. Therefore, it is important to keep your heart rate and blood pressure under control to avoid these serious health risks.

Secondly, holding your breath can cause an increase in carbon dioxide levels in your blood. An increase in carbon dioxide levels in your blood can be dangerous for several reasons. First, carbon dioxide is a major respiratory acid, and an increase in blood levels can lead to acidosis, or a build-up of acid in the body. This can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, and confusion. Also, an increase in carbon dioxide levels can also lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the dangers of an increase in carbon dioxide levels in your blood.

Finally, if you hold your breath for too long, you might start to experience hypoxia, which is when the tissues in your body start to starve for oxygen. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of oxygen. Although hypoxia can occur anywhere in the body, it is most often seen in the brain. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen, they begin to die.

This can lead to serious problems, such as seizures, paralysis, and even death. Hypoxia can be caused by a variety of factors, including heart failure, respiratory illness, and altitude sickness. It can also be induced intentionally during surgery or other medical procedures. Regardless of the cause, hypoxia is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires prompt treatment. Therefore, it is important to be careful when holding your breath underwater and to make sure you take regular breaks to avoid any serious health consequences.

How to Prevent Breath Holding

If your child is prone to breath holding, there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening.

First, help a child avoid situations that may trigger breath holding. Children may hold their breath underwater for a variety of reasons. Some children do it as part of a game or challenge, while others may do it to see how long they can last without taking a breath. In some cases, children may hold their breath as a way to coping with anxiety or stress. For example, if a child is afraid of being submerged in water, he or she may hold his or her breath in an effort to avoid taking a breath.

Children may also hold their breath while swimming in an attempt to stay underwater for as long as possible. Whatever the reason, holding one's breath underwater can be dangerous and should be avoided. If a child feels the need to hold his or her breath, he or she should come up for air as soon as possible.

Second, provide plenty of opportunities for your child to release their energy in an appropriate way. Children are often full of energy, and it can be difficult for them to play in the water without trying holding breath games. However, it is important to find ways for your children to release their energy in positive and constructive ways. Some ideas include playing outside, participating in organized pool games, or simply doing laps in the pool.

In addition, parents can encourage their children to release energy through creative outlets such as art or music. By providing opportunities for children to expend their energy in positive ways, parents can help them avoid turning to breath holding games in the pool.

Finally, avoid using physical punishment as a form of discipline; instead, opt for positive reinforcement when your child exhibits good behavior. A lifeguard should enforce the rules of no breath holding, but if they don't you can quietly ask them to discipline your child so that you do not have to be the bad guy!


Breath holding games is something we all grew up with. Studies have shown that something that was a seemingly normal, innocent game can actually be extremely risky for your health. There have been several reported cases of pool-related deaths associated with breath-holding games.

In one case, a 14-year-old boy from Texas died after participating in a game of chicken in a swimming pool. In another case, a 20-year-old man from Florida drowned after attempting to hold his breath for an extended period of time while swimming underwater. While it is impossible to say for certain how many people have died while playing breath-holding games in pools, it is clear that there is a potential risk associated with the activity. Therefore, it is important to be cautious and avoid engaging in any activity that could lead to drowning.

Breath holding is a dangerous reflex that can lead to serious health problems—even death—in children. If your child is prone to breath holding, take steps to prevent it from happening by avoiding triggering situations and providing positive reinforcement. If you have any concerns about your child's health, be sure to speak with your pediatrician right away.


It is my mission to help educate as many people as I possibly can in CPR, first aid and other lifesaving skills. I hope this article helped you to understand how to size up a scene and form an initial impression. Join my email list where I highlight lifesaving skills tips and keep you up to date with the latest safety trends.

Recommended Resources on If you're interested in learning more about lifesaving training, check out my in-depth guide How To Save A Life With CPR.


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Steve Grella is a father of two young boys. He is a Police Detective, EMT, lifeguard trainer and swim instructor, who brings over 20 years of knowledge and expertise in safety and service. He has dedicated his life to educating students in vital lifesaving training and now strives to provide expert resources to arm you with the skills and training to one day save a life if called upon.

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