Why Your Child Might Be Making Grunting Noises

If you notice your child is grunting, it may be a sign that he or she is having trouble breathing. By grunting, your child can raise the pressure in their lungs more than they can from a normal breath thereby getting more air into their lungs.

Other kids do a similar thing by sighing, which can also be a sign of asthma. Other experts have found these kinds of sighing breaths in people with well-controlled asthma.

So what is causing your child to have this grunting pattern of breathing? Without them having other symptoms, like coughing and wheezing, it can be hard to tell.

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Signs of Breathing Difficulties

Other signs or symptoms that a child may be having trouble breathing, also known as respiratory distress, include:

  • Tachypnea: A fast breathing rate
  • Cyanosis: Bluish discoloration of a child's skin
  • Nasal flaring
  • Retractions: A child's chest sinking in just below their neck and/or beneath their ribs with each breath
  • Wheezing: A tight musical or whistling sound that may be heard when a child breathes in or out
  • Stridor: A harsh, high-pitched sound that is heard when a child, usually with croup, breathes in
  • A non-stop cough

These signs can be seen in children with pneumonia, asthma, croup, and other lung problems.

Another cause of grunting could be due to food caught in your child's lungs. If your child recently choked on something, like a piece of popcorn or a peanut, it could have gotten stuck in the lungs. If you are concerned this may have happened, check with your child's doctor.

If you are concerned about any noises your child might be making, take them to the pediatrician. Your child's doctor can help rule out or diagnose conditions like asthma or croup. 

Grunting Without Breathing Problems

If your child's grunting persists, does not seem related to breathing, and comes with other tic-like symptoms and repetitive movements, it could be a sign of Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome is a neurological condition that causes people to repeat movements, make noises, and perform other tic behaviors.

While some people can minimize or suppress their tics, tics are involuntary and largely out of control. In most cases, Tourette syndrome is diagnosed in childhood and is more common among boys. If your child does have Tourette syndrome, medications and psychological therapies can help keep their symptoms in check. 

Even without other symptoms, you likely should see your pediatrician make sure your child is in good health. They might order a chest X-ray, which can provide clues as to why your child is having difficulties.

If your pediatrician is unclear what might be causing the grunting and it persists, an evaluation by a pediatric pulmonologist, a child lung specialist, might also be helpful. If their doctor suspects Tourette syndrome, they might recommend a consult with a pediatric neurologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my newborn baby grunt?

Babies often grunt while they are digesting and having a bowel movement. This is normal and nothing to worry about as babies' bodies are learning these basic processes. These types of sounds will eventually fade as your baby's bodily functions become more regular.

How is Tourette's syndrome diagnosed?

If you suspect your child is grunting as part of a Tourette's syndrome tic, you should call a doctor to discuss the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options, though it is a very rare condition. There are four criteria that must be met for a diagnosis:

  • There must be two or more motor tics and at least one vocal tic (like grunting).
  • The tics must be present for at least a year.
  • They must start before age 18.
  • The symptoms must be unrelated to another condition or medication.
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cheifetz IM. Year in Review 2015: Pediatric ARDSRespiratory Care. 2016;61(7):980-985. doi:10.4187/respcare.05017

  2. Cutrera R, Baraldi E, Indinnimeo L. Management of acute respiratory diseases in the pediatric population: the role of oral corticosteroidsItal J Pediatr. 2017;43(1):31. doi:10.1186/s13052-017-0348-x

  3. Chowdhury U, Heyman I. Tourette's syndrome in childrenBMJ. 2004;329(7479):1356–1357. doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7479.1356

  4. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.