It’s common for children to get respiratory infections, with a runny nose and a sore throat. Older children may develop a cough, whereas infants do not generally cough much when suffering from a cold. Colds are usually caused by viruses, which are spread by droplets from others (such as by coughing and sneezing). Viruses usually take 1 to 3 days before symptoms are seen. Nose and throat infections usually run their course in less than a week.
Feeling cold or being in cold weather doesn’t cause colds, however, it may reduce a person’s resistance to infection. Children needn’t stay in bed when they have a normal cold. Give plenty of fluids, and give nose drops, if necessary, to ease breathing.If the tonsils become infected and swollen, eating may become a problem, and your child may develop a sore, painful throat. When the adenoids of the throat are infected and swollen, the child’s nose may also become blocked, and he or she may snore and breathe with an open mouth. Enlarged adenoids may lead to ear infections.
Croup is inflammation of the larynx (voice box) of the throat that causes a hoarse, barking cough. It usually appears in connection with a normal cold. Symptoms often show up immediately after the child has gone to bed in the evening. The coughing leads to difficulty breathing, and inhalation (breathing in) becomes strained and hoarse, often with an unusual, jarring noise. Some babies get croup several times during their childhood, but the condition becomes rarer as the child grows older.
Treatment consists of calming the child, raising the main part of the body, and having the child breathe moist air. The easiest way to do this is to take your child into the bathroom and let him or her breathe the steam from a hot shower. (Don’t put the child into the hot water!) Drinking plenty of cool juice or water may also help reduce symptoms. Medicines are not generally advised at first, but do call the doctor or go to the hospital if the breathing difficulties become severe or if they don’t improve quickly.
Ear infections are very common in youngsters. Often the symptoms are associated with a cold, but they may also be the only sign of an infection. Children typically hold their ear or turn their head from side to side.
The pain in the ears may become intense, and it may last for several days. Your child might be soothed by lying with his or her head high up. Acetaminophen can be used for both relieving pain and reducing fever. Ear infections are usually treated with antibiotics. If the eardrum ruptures, pus may leak out from the ear. This should be looked at by a doctor as soon as possible. Letting pus or fluid stay in the middle ear might cause hearing problems.
An infection can sometimes spread from the upper respiratory system — such as the nose and throat — down to the airway tubes, which are called the bronchi. During the first year of life, one kind of viral infection of the bronchi causes asthma-like symptoms, with strained, panting breathing. Some babies get so short of breath that they have to be admitted to the hospital. Older children may develop a troublesome cough. Treatment often consists of keeping the child indoors and letting him or her rest for a few days. A cough syrup that breaks up mucus may also help.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs. It can be caused by viruses or by bacteria. Symptoms include high temperature, rapid breathing, deep cough, and maybe pain in the chest. These symptoms can be worse if the pneumonia is accompanied by a cold. If you suspect pneumonia, you should call the doctor immediately.