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Infant Airway and Lungs  

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Definition  

An apparent life-threatening event (ALTE) is a set of symptoms in an infant that cause the caregiver to believe the child may be dying or has died. It may include disturbed breathing, change in color, choking or gagging. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be needed at the time of the event.

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Causes  

The cause of ALTE is not always clear. Some likely causes of ALTE may include:

  • Digestive problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Neurological problems, such as a seizure disorder or problems with the breathing center in the brain
  • Respiratory problems, such as lung infection or something blocking the airway
  • Infections
  • Heart problems, such as an abnormal heartbeat
  • Problems with the endocrine system, which includes the glands and hormones
  • Metabolic problems, such as hypoglycemia
  • Child abuse
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Risk Factors  

Boys and babies younger than 1 year of age are at higher risk of ALTE. Other factors that may increase an infant’s risk of ALTE include:

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Symptoms  

Symptoms may include:

  • Breathing that stops
  • Changes in skin color—blue, red, or pale
  • Change in muscle tone—floppy or tense
  • Choking
  • Gagging
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Diagnosis  

The doctor will ask about your baby’s symptoms and medical history, including what you noticed in the time leading up to the ALTE. A physical and neurological exam will be done. Your child's condition may need to be observed short term in the hospital and followed closely long term after discharge.

To look for potential causes of ALTE the doctor may order:

  • Blood and urine tests may be done to look for infections or other problems in the body’s fluids.
  • X-rays and ultrasounds may also be done to take images of your baby’s bodily structures.

Other tests may include:

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Treatment  

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your baby. Options include life-saving treatment if needed and treating the underlying cause of the ALTE. If the cause is unknown, treatment involves monitoring the child for symptoms.

Life-saving Treatment  

CPR is a life-saving treatment that can be delivered by non-medical and medical people. It may restore breathing and blood circulation or help provide oxygen to the body until medical help arrives.

Consider taking a class in infant CPR so you are prepared.