My six-year-old son faints at the sight of blood

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - PARENTING - WITH DAVID COLE­MAN dcole­man@in­de­pen­dent.ie

MY son is six years old and has re­cently be­gun faint­ing or al­most faint­ing at the sight of blood. It all be­gan af­ter he had his school im­mu­ni­sa­tions. He was upset when this hap­pened, but didn’t faint. A few

IT is quite rare to faint when we are anx­ious be­cause the re­lease of adrenalin usu­ally in­creases our blood pres­sure. In­stead, it is a sud­den drop in blood pres­sure that usu­ally leads to faint­ing.

How­ever, a small num­ber of chil­dren, es­pe­cially those with a fear of blood or nee­dles, may ex­pe­ri­ence the typ­i­cal sud­den rise in blood pres­sure as­so­ci­ated with the anx­i­ety, fol­lowed quickly by a drop in blood pres­sure. This drop in blood pres­sure is called vaso­va­gal syn­cope.

What hap­pens is that the blood ves­sels in your son’s legs have ac­tu­ally opened up (caus­ing the blood to pool in his legs) and his heart rate will have slowed. It is in essence a sys­tem mal­func­tion!

The vaso­va­gal syn­cope it­self isn’t dan­ger­ous. The only real dan­ger is in pos­si­bly fall­ing and hurt­ing him­self if he faints. As you ex­pe­ri­enced, he will quickly re­cover from the faint. Ly­ing him down and rais­ing his legs will help. He may also need to lie down for 15 to 30 min­utes af­ter­wards, as some­times get­ting up too quickly can lead to a fur­ther faint.

So, be­cause he is so young, he weeks later, he fell out­side while play­ing and grazed his knee. He quickly got very upset and pan­icky, he turned white as a ghost, felt very nau­seous and fainted. He came to very quickly but fell asleep straight away for an hour. I re­ally hate see­ing him so anx­ious and upset. Is there any­thing you can rec­om­mend to help him with this?

might need help to re­mem­ber what to do if ever he feels faint. The best thing to do, as soon as you or he no­tices that he pales, or feels light-headed, or gets a cold, clammy sweat, is to get him ly­ing down with his feet up. This will sig­nif­i­cantly help to deal with the phys­i­cal ef­fects of the vaso­va­gal syn­cope.

It will also be use­ful to try to teach him some al­ter­na­tive strate­gies to help pre­vent ei­ther the anx­i­ety re­sponse to blood, or the drop in his blood pres­sure. If we start with the lat­ter, he needs to learn what is called the ‘Ap­plied Ten­sion Tech­nique’ (ATT). Es­sen­tially, this in­volves de­lib­er­ately tens­ing the mus­cles in his arms and legs, since tens­ing them will raise his blood pres­sure, mak­ing him less likely to faint.

As with all these kinds of tech­niques, it is bet­ter for him to learn and prac­tice it reg­u­larly when he is al­ready re­laxed, such that it has be­come some­what ha­bit­ual for him to be able to do it, by the time he might need to use it if he sees blood or nee­dles.

To prac­tice it, get him sit­ting com­fort­ably and then ask him to tense the mus­cles in his arms and legs while count­ing slowly from one to 10. Then let him re­lax the mus­cles for about the same amount of time, be­fore re­peat­ing again. Do this tense and re­lax cy­cle four to five times. One of the things he should (help­fully) ex­pe­ri­ence is that his head feels warmed by the process. That is a good sign that his blood pres­sure is be­ing kept up.

You may need to prompt him to do this if you are the one to spot him pal­ing or ap­pear­ing clammy. Us­ing this ATT will, hope­fully, al­low him to deal with the blood pres­sure is­sue with­out hav­ing to lie down, and so he can be more dis­creet if he is in school or around his peers.

Even hav­ing a tech­nique like this may help him avoid fu­ture faints, since part of his anx­i­ety about the blood may ac­tu­ally be his fear of faint­ing and the dis­com­fort that it brings. If he knows he can be more in charge of what is hap­pen­ing to his body, it may give him greater con­fi­dence, and a sense of con­trol, such that he doesn’t feel as anx­ious or dis­tressed at the sight of the blood.

In the longer term, and as he grows older, you may want to use this ATT in con­junc­tion with some graded ex­po­sure strate­gies that are used for pho­bias. These can be hard to do, as a par­ent with your own child, and so you might want to bring him to a child psy­chol­o­gist who is ex­pe­ri­enced in deal­ing with anx­i­ety and pho­bia. Bear in mind, though, that he is still quite young and so it might be hard to work on this el­e­ment as yet.

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