Hypercapnia in Children

June 5, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
feature image

If your child has been diagnosed with hypercapnia, providing the care they deserve can be challenging and complex for parents. Children with hypercapnia require close monitoring and ongoing attention to ensure their symptoms are under control, but it is possible to successfully manage this condition and achieve a positive outcome.

In this helpful guide, we’re sharing the essential information and steps that parents and caregivers can take to provide the best possible support at home for children with hypercapnia.

What is hypercapnia?

Hypercapnia is a condition that causes abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. When we breathe in, we usually inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But if the lungs cannot properly exchange and expel carbon dioxide from the blood, it can rise above normal levels.

Causes and Risk Factors for Hypercapnia

Hypercapnia is caused by a wide range of factors that affect the ability of the lungs to eliminate carbon dioxide from the body. Common causes of hypercapnia include:

  • Respiratory failure: When the lungs are unable to perform their essential function of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, it results in the buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Lung disease: Specific diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis, or asthma can impair the ability to eliminate carbon dioxide.
  • Sleep apnea: A condition in which a person’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, leading to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Medications: Some medications can slow down breathing, leading to hypercapnia.
  • Neurological Disorders: Certain disorders such as spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis can affect the muscles involved in breathing, leading to hypercapnia.

Common causes in children include respiratory failure and neurological disorders. Risk factors can include certain birth defects, pregnancy complications, and medications taken during pregnancy.

Symptoms of Hypercapnia in Children

The severity of hypercapnia symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause, the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, and overall health. Common symptoms of hypercapnia include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion or visible changes in mental status
  • Headaches
  • Flushed skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Tremors or twitching
  • Seizures

In infants and young children, hypercapnia may present with different symptoms, such as poor feeding, lethargy, irritability, or changes in skin color.

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, especially severely or suddenly, it is critical to seek immediate medical attention. Hypercapnia is a potentially life-threatening condition if left untreated.

Diagnosing Hypercapnia in Children

Doctors diagnose hypercapnia in children through medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Due to visible symptoms, infant hypercapnia is often identified at birth or immediately after birth. Although in other situations, it may develop later. Common methods used to diagnose hypercapnia include:

  • Arterial blood gas test to measure levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • Pulmonary function tests to evaluate lung function
  • Chest X-ray or CT scan to identify any lung abnormalities, such as pneumonia or lung cancer, that may be causing hypercapnia
  • Neurological evaluation, if hypercapnia is suspected to be caused by a neurological disorder

Once the underlying cause of hypercapnia is identified, parents can work with doctors and other providers to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Treatment Options for Hypercapnia

The goal of treatment for hypercapnia in children is to improve breathing and gas exchange in the lungs, reduce carbon dioxide levels in the blood, and prevent complications. Specific treatment options include:

  • Oxygen therapy to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood and help reduce the levels of carbon dioxide
  • Medications such as bronchodilators, corticosteroids, or antibiotics may be prescribed to treat lung disease or infections
  • In severe cases of hypercapnia, mechanical ventilation may be necessary to support breathing and ensure proper blood oxygenation

Treating hypercapnia also typically involves treating underlying conditions, such as neurological disorders that are contributing to the condition.

Caring for a Child With Hypercapnia

Meeting the care needs of children with hypercapnia can be challenging and requires close monitoring and management to prevent complications. It is critical for parents and other caregivers to follow the recommended treatment plan, monitor oxygen levels, and watch for any symptoms that require additional medical attention. Children with this condition will typically require regular follow-up care, and keeping open communication with your treatment team is helpful.

To ensure the best possible quality of life and development for your child, the following care tips are important:

  • Help with mobility by carrying or pushing your child in a wheelchair or stroller
  • Make sure they eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Take precautions to prevent respiratory infections, such as washing your hands frequently, keeping a clean environment, and avoiding contact with sick individuals
  • Create a safe environment for your child by removing any potential hazards, such as rugs or furniture that could cause falls, and ensuring that oxygen equipment and other medical devices are stored safely

Caring for a child with hypercapnia can be challenging, but it is possible to manage the condition and help your child lead a healthy and active life with the right support. Many families turn to pediatric home health services to help achieve the level of care children with this condition deserve and balance the needs of busy schedules and multiple children.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.