Respiratory conditions in children produce a range of cold and flu-like symptoms caused by infections, chronic illnesses, asthma or other factors. Children are at a higher risk of developing certain respiratory conditions, including croup and bronchiolitis, and are affected by at least six to eight colds and other respiratory infections each year.
The term croup refers to a series of conditions common in children that involve inflammation of the upper airway and resulting in a severe cough. This condition occurs most frequently in children under the age of five because they have smaller airways. Although croup is not serious, it can be troubling for both parent and child.
Croup is caused by a virus that causes the airway to become inflamed and keep air from properly flowing through. When this air tries to escape, it vibrates against the vocal cords and causes a barking sound. Croup can also cause cold-like symptoms, difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing and a high fever. Most cases of croup usually go away on their own, but severe cases may require extra care or even hospitalization.
Other common respiratory disorders include:
These conditions range in seriousness from mild to severe and may be present at birth or acquired. Some are acute, lasting for up to four weeks, while others may be chronic. Many respiratory conditions go away on their own with no medical treatment needed. Your child should see a doctor if symptoms of a respiratory infection persist for more than a few days, as special care may be needed.
Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are one of the most common childhood conditions. Three out of four children in the US will have at least one ear infection by the time they reach the age of 3, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
The ear is made up of three different parts – the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Although infections can occur in any area, the middle ear is most susceptible. The middle ear is the area just behind the eardrum and connects to the nose through tiny passages called eustachian tubes. When fluid, often from a cold or other viral infection, builds up in these tubes, they become inflamed or irritated. Children's eustachian tubes are narrower and shorter than those of adults and are therefore more likely to develop ear infections. Ear infections rarely affect adults.
Certain risk factors place children at a higher risk for ear infections. Some of these factors include:
Ear infections can be hard to detect in young children due to a lack of communication. Symptoms of a middle ear infection typically include:
Your child may tug or pull at their ears, be irritable, cry often or have trouble sleeping if they are suffering from an ear infection. These symptoms often present themselves after a cold.
An ear infection can be diagnosed by using an otoscope, a small lighted tube used to view the eardrum, as well as performing a complete physical examination of the throat, sinuses, head, neck and lungs. A hearing test may also be performed for chronic or recurring ear infections.
Most ear infections go away on their own within two or three days. Therefore, treatment focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms. Ear infections may not be responsive to antibiotics if they are caused by a viral infection and will not relieve pain within the first 24 hours. Most doctors follow a wait-and-see approach for treating ear infections. More severe cases may require surgery or drainage tubes. Your doctor will help you decide which treatment option is best for your child.
Your can help reduce your child's risk of ear infections by keeping them away from other sick children and secondhand smoke, breastfeeding and maintaining proper hygiene to prevent infection.
Encopresis is a childhood symptom that involves suppressed urges to go to the bathroom and results in soiling. Children over the age of four that have frequent soiling episodes may suffer from encopresis. This may be caused by constipation and avoiding the pain associated with it, leading to accidents. The constipation can be caused by a number of reasons such as diet, illness or stress. It is important to realize that the soiling cannot be controlled by the child.
Encopresis can be treated through emptying of the colon and stool-softening agents to establish regular bowel movements. Drinking fluids and adding fiber to the diet can also help this process. It is important to be patient and understanding with your child while he or she experiences these symptoms. Talk to your doctor about more information on encopresis.
Fifth disease, also known as slapped cheek disease, is a common childhood illness characterized by a rash that appears on the cheeks. It is caused by a virus and is spread through coughing and sneezing. Adults can get fifth disease as well, but it is more common in children.
Symptoms of fifth disease are similar to the flu and can include runny nose, sore throat and headache, along with the rash. Once the rash appears, the disease is no longer contagious. Fifths disease usually goes away on its own after a few weeks, but can be treated at home with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medication.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction that causes cold-like symptoms. Allergic reactions are triggered by exposure to certain substances known as allergens that can include pollen, dust mites or animal dander. It can also be caused by changes in the weather. Hay fever is a common condition that affects one in five people.
Symptoms of hay fever can include:
These symptoms may be mild, but can also interfere with your daily life. Corticosteroids, decongestants and antihistamines can help relieve symptoms of hay fever. Talk to your doctor to decide which treatment option is best for your or your child.