Cough and the Common Cold In Children

Don’t dismiss coughing and the common cold in your child. Sometimes, these can indicate a more serious respiratory illness or infection in children.

Sore throat, runny nose and cough in children are signs that your child’s respiratory tract, or airway, may be infected. 

There are two types of respiratory illnesses:
  1. Upper respiratory tract infections may affect the mouth, nose, sinuses and throat. The most common infection is the common cold. Your child may get several episodes of common cold a year, as these are usually caused by viral infections which spread easily.
  2. Lower respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia affect the bronchial tubes and lungs. They are usually caused by viruses, but less commonly, they may also be due to bacterial infections, which makes the illness more severe.
Other respiratory illnesses include influenza, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis and SARS.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Children

If your child has an upper respiratory tract infection, he may have a:
  • cough – this may be a “dry” cough or a “wet” cough accompanied by phlegm
  • stuffy nose or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • fever
A common cold is a mild infection of the upper respiratory tract, which usually resolves itself on its own and does not need active treatment. Instead, let your child rest as much as possible and drink more fluids. Your child’s immune system usually will be able to fight the infection. How long the cold lasts depends on your child’s age and resistance. A younger child with a less mature immune system may take longer to recover.

Related: Cough

However, you can consult a doctor or a pharmacist for medication to relieve your child’s symptoms and help him feel more comfortable. It is not advisable to self-medicate young children as not all over-the-counter medicines are safe for them.

Antibiotics are not needed for viral infections and will not help your child recover faster.

Lower Respiratory Tract Infection in Children

Sometimes, an upper respiratory tract infection may lead to a lower respiratory tract infection such as bronchitis, when the tubes that carry air to the lungs are inflamed.

Symptoms of lower respiratory system infection include:
  • cough
  • fever (usually high fever in pneumonia)
  • difficulty in breathing, including laboured or rapid breathing or wheezing
Lower respiratory tract infections caused by viruses may be mild, and may resolve on their own, like infections in the upper respiratory tract. However, bronchiolitis, a more serious viral infection in which the small air passages are inflamed, may cause severe blockage of the air passages. This is a common infection among babies and children under two years old. If your child has high fever and complains of chest pain, bring him to a doctor immediately in case he has pneumonia (infection of his lungs).

Lower respiratory tract infections may also be caused by bacteria which may be more severe.

What Can I Do to Prevent Respiratory Infection in My Children?

It is not possible to totally prevent respiratory illness in children like coughs and colds. However, you can take the following steps to reduce their risk:

  1. Protect your child with vaccinations: Your child should receive the recommended vaccines — 5 in 1 (Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Polio, Haemophilus Influenza Type B), MMR, Pneumococcal — under the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule. These diseases start with symptoms of fever, cough and cold. Make sure your child takes the vaccination according to the schedule to build his immunity. You can also bring your child for an annual influenza vaccination.
  2. Practise good hygiene: When anyone in the family is sick, always wash hands with soap before handling children and wear a face mask to stop the spread of infectious diseases. Teach your child good health and hygiene habits, such as frequent hand-washing with soap, covering his mouth with a tissue when he coughs or sneezes and avoiding overly crowded places. Also, teach him to avoid touching his eyes, nose or mouth with his hands, as germs are often spread this way.

Learn more about the other common conditions that children face: 

Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.

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