Respiratory Treatment for Sickle Cell Disease

Acute chest syndrome—a reduction in oxygen that causes coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath—is a leading cause of hospitalization in children with sickle cell disease.

The condition may be triggered by an infection, dehydration, or a blood clot in blood vessels in the chest. Children with sickle cell disease who are treated with opioid pain medications, such as morphine, which can lead to slower or shallower breathing, can also develop acute chest syndrome.

Acute chest syndrome can lead to the development of asthma, in which episodic narrowing of small airways in the lungs makes breathing difficult. 

In addition to treating the underlying cause of acute chest syndrome, such as an infection or dehydration, doctors at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital of New York at NYU Langone may use respiratory treatments to improve breathing in children who develop this complication.

Incentive Spirometer

An incentive spirometer is a device that may be used to help your child breathe more effectively, preventing or alleviating respiratory symptoms of acute chest syndrome and asthma.

Your child breathes into the spirometer’s mouthpiece, and a marker in the device measures how much air is breathed in and out. This is done in the hospital or on an outpatient basis and can help teach your child to take deeper breaths and keep the airways open.

Breathing Techniques

Our physical therapists may teach you and your child deep-breathing techniques, which can prevent or reduce symptoms of acute chest syndrome. Breathing deeply into the lungs is especially important for children who are taking opiates, which can lead to shallow breathing.

Oxygen Therapy

Your child may need supplemental oxygen therapy in the hospital if he or she has difficulty getting enough oxygen because of acute chest syndrome.

Oxygen can be given through a mask that covers the nose and mouth or with tubes that are inserted into the nose. A mechanical ventilator, a machine that pumps oxygen into your child’s lungs through the windpipe, also may be used to deliver supplemental oxygen.

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