Okee in Medical Imaging

Holding your breath

  • What is holding your breath?

    Holding your breath briefly stops your lungs moving in your pictures and making them blurry. You will need to take a deep breath and hold still while your picture is taken.

    Sometimes you may also need to blow all the air out and hold still while the picture is taken. You may just need to do this once or twice, but other times you will need to do it more often.

    Will I need to hold my breath?

    If you are having pictures taken of your chest or abdomen (tummy) you will probably need to hold your breath during your pictures.

    This can be for up to 20 seconds at a time. You can practise holding your breath at home with your mum or dad. The more you practise this, the easier it will be to hold it!

    What you need to know

    If you’re having pictures taken of your chest or abdomen (tummy), you’ll probably need to hold your breath. There are two ways to hold your breath – in (inhalation) or out (exhalation).

    To hold your breath in:

    Take a deep breath in and when you can’t breathe in any more, stop. It helps to keep your mouth, cheeks and tummy still, this way you won’t keep breathing through your nose. You will need to hold your breath for 10-20 seconds at a time, then you will get to take another breath before the next breath hold. This can seem like a long time at first, but if you practise at home it gets a lot easier.

    To hold your breath out:

    Take a deep breath in, then blow all the air out through your mouth. When you can’t blow anymore, stop and keep your mouth, cheeks and tummy still. This can be tricky at first, but gets easier if you practise.

    Before you have your pictures taken, a play therapist or the radiographer might ask you to show them how you hold your breath. They will tell you which kind of breath holds you need to do. This helps them to know you can do it before you start having your pictures taken. When it's time to start, someone will tell you when you need to hold your breath and when you can breathe normally.

    What parents need to know

    How do I know if my child needs breath holds?

    If your child is having images taken of their chest or abdomen, it is likely that they will need to hold their breath for imaging. This is not the case in Nuclear Medicine or Fluoroscopy.

    How long do they need to hold their breath for?

    It depends on the imaging type – in X-ray it’s just a few seconds, while in MRI it can be up to 20 seconds at a time, repeatedly over a 20 minute period. Check the requirements with Medical Imaging.

    What should I do if I’m not sure my child can hold their breath?

    There are a number of reasons why your child may not cope with holding their breath. This can be due to anxiety, age or their developmental stage. It is a good idea to ask your child to practise at home so you can assess their ability. If you feel that your child will require additional preparation, please contact Medical Imaging reception on 03 9345 5255.

    My child can’t hold their breath. Does this mean we have to cancel the appointment?

    The importance of breath holds depends on what type of imaging your child is having, and what the doctor is looking for.

    For X-ray and Ultrasound: imaging can usually be managed without breath holds.

    For CT and MRI: If you’re concerned, the best thing to do is discuss this with the medical imaging team. They can determine if play therapy might help, your child can have a different type of scan, or if they require a general anaesthetic.

    What do I need to do before the appointment?

    If your child requires breath holds, it’s a good idea to spend a couple of minutes in the days before their appointment practising, as just a few minutes can significantly improve how long children can hold their breath. Do not continue to push if this causes any distress to your child.

    What should I tell my child?

    It is important to be honest but considerate of your child’s developmental level. It is a good idea to start by explaining to your child why they need the scan. Explain that holding their breath will allow the people at the hospital to get the best pictures. Children over the age of 5 generally cope best when they are informed of their procedure the week prior, and are given the opportunity to process the information and ask questions. For children under 5 they are best told about their appointment the day before. You are encouraged to explore the Okee app games and to discuss the content with your child before their appointment.