What To Do If The Area Around Your Baby's Mouth Turns Blue
If the lips and tongue remain pink while the area around the mouth turns blue, this is fine. Blue spells occur when a child's lungs are not receiving enough blood to carry oxygen to the rest of the body. Find out what to do in case of a blue spell.
Cyanosis, or blue spells, is when a reduced amount of blood flows into your baby's lungs. Since blood carries oxygen, less oxygen is delivered to the body. As a result, your baby may appear blue or bluish. The colour comes from reduced hemoglobin in the blood near the surface of the skin. Hemoglobin is the molecule that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen. Oxygenated hemoglobin is bright red, while deoxygenated hemoglobin is bluish. This makes your baby blue around the mouth and body. Cyanosis of congenital heart conditions begins soon after birth. Sometimes it does not appear until your baby is older.
Baby Blue Around Mouth: Is It An Emergency?
If the blue color is only around your child’s mouth and not on their lips or other parts of their face, it’s likely harmless. For children with darker skin, you can also check the inside of their mouth. This includes their gums, for any pale discoloration. If you notice discoloration in any area other of your child's body, seek emergency medical treatment.
Additional warning signs include:
- rapid heart rate
- gasping for breath
- excessive sweating
- breathing problems
What causes it?
In many cases, circumoral cyanosis is considered a type of acrocyanosis. Acrocyanosis happens when small blood vessels shrink in response to cold. This is very normal in infants during the first few days after birth. Cyanosis may mean that the lungs are not oxygenating the blood properly. Or that not enough oxygenated blood is getting to the body.
In older children, circumoral cyanosis often appears when they go outside in cold weather or get out of a warm bath. This type of cyanosis should go away once they warm up. If it doesn’t, seek emergency medical treatment. Circumoral cyanosis that doesn’t go away with heat could be a sign of a serious lung or heart problem, such as cyanotic congenital heart disease.
Some children look blue after getting cold or having a bath; this is not cyanosis.
Cyanosis is most common:
- when your baby cries strongly
- soon after waking
- right after a feeding
- soon after a bowel movement
- if your baby is dehydrated and needs liquids
Causes of central cyanosis
Central cyanosis has many possible causes, including:
- breathing and lung problems
- heart defects that allow oxygen-poor blood from the right side of the heart to mix with oxygen-rich blood in the left side of the heart, so the blood that is pumped out to the body is low in oxygen; these defects are known as right-to-left shunts
- problems with blood flow to and/or from the lungs due to abnormal connections of the blood vessels between the heart and lungs, or obstruction of the blood vessels
- fluid build-up in the lungs (pulmonary edema) caused by congestive heart failure
- disorders of hemoglobin, which mean the blood cannot carry oxygen properly
Causes of peripheral cyanosis
Peripheral cyanosis is also the result of:
- cold temperature
- crying in a newborn
- shock, among other things
Congenital heart defects that cause cyanosis include transposition of the great arteries, pulmonary atresia, tetralogy of Fallot, tricuspid atresia, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, truncus arteriosus, and interrupted aortic arch.
Helping your child during a cyanotic or blue spell
If your child has a cyanotic or blue spell, do not panic. To help your child, follow these steps:
- Place your baby on their back.
- Bring the baby's knees up to touch the chest and hold them firmly in place. You can also do this while holding your baby.
- Comfort and settle your baby by holding and rocking, giving a soother and gentle cuddling.
- Remain calm. Your baby can sense when you are upset, which will make it harder to settle the baby.
Circumoral cyanosis in children usually goes away on its own. For infants, this happens a few days after birth. For older children, it should happen once they get warm.
However, if you notice any other unusual symptoms, especially related to breathing, it’s best to take your child to the emergency room as soon as possible. A doctor will likely need to stabilize their airways, breathing, and circulation before trying to figure out the underlying cause.
- If this is your child's first blue spell, tell your child's doctor.
- in case the frequency of your child's blue spells increases, tell your child's cardiologist.
- If the blue spell lasts longer than one minute, take your child to the nearest emergency department.
Also read: Blue baby syndrome: A guide for parents