Child with Blue Lips

Children may get blue lips or purple lips occasionally. This may occur at any time of the day such as when the child is hyper active or when he/she first wakes up in the morning. Despite the time, blue lips are not something you should brush away as they may be a sign of a health condition such as cyanosis. Below we give you information on causes of blue lips in children and what to do when you notice this in your child.

What Causes Blue Lips in Children?

Ideally, a child’s lips should be pink in color. Besides the lips, no part of your child’s body should turn blue or purple, as this may be an indication of cyanosis which means that your young one has insufficient amounts of oxygen within the blood stream. Cyanosis is mostly brought about by congenital heart defects and other causes may include seizures, septic shock and lung conditions like asthma, croup or pneumonia. That said, it’s good to know that cyanosis is not always bad. In fact, many newborns and young children normally experience acrocyanosis which leads to blue discolorations on the hands and feet. In medical terms, this is referred to as peripheral cyanosis. The condition will normally resolve itself within the young one’s circulatory system with time.

Blue lips also may be an indication of an underlying health condition such as:

  • Asthma
  • Anemia
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Croup
  • Methemoglobinemia
  • Epiglottitis
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Cyanotic heart disease and other heart conditions

It may also result from:

  • Shock
  • Exposure to cold environments
  • Coughing
  • Transposition of the major vessels

As you can see, cyanosis in children has various causes. Below are some of causes affecting different types of cyanosis.

Cyanosis affecting the lips and skin: As mentioned this is a symptom of insufficient oxygen within the blood and it can be caused by:

  • Lung problems: Such as pulmonary embolism which is a blood clot within the lung arteries, severe pneumonia, a worsened lung condition, drowning or high altitude.
  • A heart condition: Heart failure, congenital heart disease or even cardiac arrest are all possible causes.
  • Conditions affecting the airways: Choking, epiglottitis, seizures and bronchiectasis can all turn the lips and skin bluish.
  • Blood problems: Such as polycythaemia or abnormal hemoglobin.

Cyanosis affecting the limbs, hands and feet: If the child’s limbs, hands and feet feel cold and have a bluish appearance, the child may have peripheral cyanosis. This is attributed to poor circulation and it can be caused by:

  • Ryanaud’s disease: This is a common condition and it affects blood supply to various parts of the body, mainly the hands and feet.
  • Blood clot: A blood clot may cut off blood supply to the limbs or hands and lead to cyanosis.

How to Decide Whether It Is Normal or a Cause for Concern

So how do you tell if your baby’s blue lips are normal or an indication of a severe underlying condition? Here are some things you can look into.

  • Weight and development. If your child has poor weight for his age or is experiencing weight loss, this may be a sign of a health problem.
  • If your child has once been diagnosed with a heart murmur, you need to get in touch with your doctor immediately.
  • If the blue lips are accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty breathing or a cough, your child may be asthmatic.
  • If your child easily gets tired or fatigued compared to other children in his age group, the blue lips may indicate a serious underlying condition.
  • If your child gets sleepy or weak when he has blue lips, his brain and other body organs may not be getting enough supply of oxygen.

What to Do When Children Have Blue Lips

If you notice that your child has blue lips, go to the accident and emergency department of the hospital that is closest to you. You can also call 911 immediately.

You need to carefully examine the condition of the child and most importantly trust your instincts. Be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • Difficulty breathing. The first thing you should do when your child has blue lips is to check to ensure that they are breathing properly.
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Grunting noises
  • Fatigue or inability to easily move around

Diagnosis of Blue Lips in Child

You need to ensure that you seek medical attention whenever you notice that your child has blue lips regardless of whether or not the child has the above warning signs. Your doctor is in the best position to identify if the blue lips are normal or a cause for concern. Normally, your pediatrician will conduct a physical exam on the child and evaluate the cyanosis pattern to see if this is a simple case of circumoral cyanosis. No further testing will be required if the doctor sees no signs of an underlying condition.

However, your child may have signs of a serious condition and in this case extensive medical tests will be undertaken. These tests include pulse oximetry which is used to measure oxygen levels in the blood stream, chest x-ray, a blood count and sometimes an EKG may be done if the doctor is concerned about the health of the child’s heart.

The treatment will depend on the cause of the blue lips and if the child is found to have circumoral cyanosis, treatment may not be necessary. If there is a heart condition or any condition affecting other organs, treatment will be administered in accordance with the condition.

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