Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger
Most babies and older children have several mild infections of the respiratory system each year.
Upper respiratory system
The upper respiratory system includes the nose, mouth, sinuses, and throat. A child with an upper respiratory infection may feel uncomfortable and sound very congested. Other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection include:
Lower respiratory system
The lower respiratory system includes the bronchial tubes and lungs. Respiratory problems are less common in the lower respiratory system than in the upper respiratory system.
Symptoms of a lower respiratory (bronchial tubes and lungs) problem usually are more severe than symptoms of an upper respiratory (mouth, nose, sinuses, and throat) problem. A child with a lower respiratory problem is more likely to require a visit to a doctor than a child with an upper respiratory problem.
Symptoms of lower respiratory system infections include:
Respiratory problems may have many causes.
Viral infections cause most upper respiratory infections. Sore throats, colds, croup, and influenza (flu) are common viral illnesses in babies and older children. These infections are usually mild and go away in 4 to 10 days, but they can sometimes be severe. For more information, see the topics Croup and Influenza (Seasonal Flu).
Home treatment can help relieve the child's symptoms. The infection usually improves on its own within a week and is gone within 14 days.
Antibiotics are not used to treat viral illnesses and do not alter the course of viral infections. Unnecessary use of an antibiotic exposes your child to the risks of an allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Viral lower respiratory system infections may be mild, similar to upper respiratory system infections. An example of a possibly serious viral infection is bronchiolitis. Up to 10% of babies and children with viral infections of the lower respiratory system, such as those caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), may develop severe blockage of the air passages and require hospitalization for treatment. For more information, see the topics Acute Bronchitis, Pneumonia, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection.
The most common sites for bacterial infections in the upper respiratory system are the sinuses and throat. A sinus infection is an example of an upper respiratory bacterial infection.
Bacterial pneumonia may follow a viral illness as a secondary infection or appear as the first sign of a lower respiratory infection. In babies and small children, the first sign of infection often is rapid breathing, irritability, decreased activity, and poor feeding. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections.
Tuberculosis is a less common bacterial infection of the lower respiratory system.
Allergies are a common cause of respiratory problems. Allergy symptoms in children include:
Babies and small children usually do not have asthma. But the number of new cases of asthma increases with age.
Besides asthma, allergies, and infection, other possible causes of respiratory problems in children include:
Babies and children younger than age 3 may have more symptoms with respiratory problems than older children, and they may become more ill. For this reason, younger children need to be watched more closely. The type and severity of the symptoms helps determine whether your child needs to see a doctor.
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.
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