Panic attacks are brief periods of intense fear, accompanied by a variety of other physical symptoms, and they are often a sign of an anxiety or panic. Panic attacks in children can be very confusing and scary for both the children and their families. Doctors agree that treatment for these panic attacks is important, so they do not lead to further psychological or even physical conditions in the future. Treatment for these attacks can include psychological counseling and, in more severe cases, medication.
Children who experience a panic attack may seem to be suddenly upset or frightened for no apparent reason. Also, panic attacks in children are generally accompanied by physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, trembling, nausea, or vomiting. Any or all of these symptoms are not uncommon during a panic attack, and they can seem extremely overwhelming and scary. These attacks, however, usually gradually subside, and most attacks will not last more than a few minutes.
If they are not treated, panic attacks in children could possibly lead to more serious medical complications down the road. A child who suffers from panic attacks at a young age may develop intense irrational fears, or phobias, in the future. Agoraphobia is the fear of public places, and it is believed to be associated with panic attacks. Children and adolescents suffering from panic attacks may also develop a predisposition to developing heart disease.
Psychological intervention is often used to control panic attacks in both children and adults. Individual and family therapies are often used to help individuals and their families understand and cope with the disorder. Group therapy can give children suffering from panic attacks the ability to share their experiences with other children suffering from the same disorder. During these types of therapy sessions, children can also practice skills that may lessen the symptoms or even stop panic attacks.
Cognitive behavior therapy is one of the most popular treatments for panic attacks in children and adults. Some doctors describe it as "rewiring of the brain." This therapy teaches skills that reduce anxiety. Children who suffer from these attacks are coached to recognize negative thoughts and feelings; therapists then help the children think of more positive thoughts.
At times when psychotherapy is not enough, a variety of medications are also prescribed to children suffering from panic attacks. With careful monitoring, these medications combined with counseling may reduce, or put an end to, most panic attacks in children. Many antidepressants, such as Zoloft® and Lexapro®, can help keep the symptoms of panic attacks at bay. Sometimes, tranquilizers, known as benzodiazapines, are used along with antidepressants to treat short-term severe symptoms.
Treating panic attacks in children does not end in the doctor's office, however. Doctors agree that there are a few things that families and teachers can do to help a child cope with his disorder. During an attack it is important for a parent or caregiver to stay calm. If the caregiver is upset, there is a good chance that the child could become even more upset. Encouraging a child to talk about his feelings and listening is also important, and some doctors recommend doing relaxation techniques together.
Panic attacks at school can affect a child's ability to learn, and may even lead to a learning disorder. Parents should inform their child's teacher of the disorder and, if possible, devise a signal that he can give to his teacher if he feels an attack coming on. The child can then be moved to a less stressful environment, and it could eliminate a potentially embarrassing situation.