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Three Childhood Respiratory Illnesses More Serious Than the Common Cold

sick child
When a child develops respiratory symptoms, parents often assume they just have a cold. But while the common cold is named such for a reason, it is far from the only respiratory illness to affect children. As a parent, you should pay close attention whenever your child develops respiratory symptoms. They may, in fact, actually have one of these illnesses that are more serious than the common cold.

1. Croup

Croup is a viral respiratory ailment that causes the upper airways to swell. The swelling leads to a characteristic, high-pitched cough. Children with croup often have a hoarse voice, and they may inhale with short, constricted breaths. Croup can be very dangerous, especially for young children and infants, because of the way it restricts breathing. Children have been known to turn blue due to a lack of oxygen intake, and some have died from croup.
The cause of croup is the same as many of the viruses that cause the common cold. Children often start off with common cold symptoms, which then worsen as they develop croup. Croup is often confused with the flu, but children with croup don't typically have a fever, whereas the flu almost always causes fever.
If your child seems to be struggling to breathe, has trouble swallowing, or you notice that the skin between his or her ribs is pulled in during breathing, seek medical attention immediately. In the absence of these symptoms, you can typically treat croup at home by giving your child plenty of fluids, running a vaporizer in the room at night, and giving pain-relief medications as recommended by a physician. 

2. Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial respiratory illness most common in babies and children. It causes a characteristic cough that sounds like a loud whoop.  Coughing fits may leave your child exhausted and may trigger vomiting. Children with whooping cough usually develop a low-grade fever and runny nose as well.
Whooping cough can lead to serious complications like pneumonia, dehydration, and even brain damage, so take your child to the doctor if you have even the slightest suspicion he or she may have this condition. Infants with whooping cough often end up in the hospital, and older children can recover at home with antibiotics. Make sure your child also gets plenty of rest and drinks a lot of water and clear fluids to ward off dehydration.
There is a vaccination for whooping cough. By having your child vaccinated, you're both protecting your child and reducing the spread of infection to others.

3. Acute Bronchitis

The bronchi are the two large airways that lead to the lungs. Acute bronchitis is a condition in which these airways become inflamed. The symptoms develop quickly and may last a few days to a week. Acute bronchitis may develop after a cold, and in most cases with children, this is caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold. 
Signs that your child has acute bronchitis, rather than just a cold, include:
  • A cough that may or may not produce mucus
  • Chest pain and chest congestion
  • A mild fever
  • Wheezing when breathing
  • A sore throat
Because bronchitis can progress to pneumonia, seek medical care if you suspect your child may have bronchitis. Treatments include cough medications, plenty of fluids, rest, and over-the-counter pain medications. Since bronchitis in children is usually viral rather than bacterial, antibiotics are not useful in treating the condition.
Most children suffer from the common cold a few times per year, and most colds are nothing to worry about. Pay close attention to your child's cold symptoms to make sure they do not worsen. If you are worried your child may have a more serious respiratory ailment, visit Physicians & Surgeons Family Medicine & General Practice for treatment.