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:
- A runny or stuffy nose. This may lead to blockage of the nasal
passages, causing the child to breathe through his or her mouth.
- Irritability, restlessness, poor appetite, and decreased activity
- Coughing, especially when lying down.
- Fever that occurs suddenly and may reach
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
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
- Shallow coughing, which continues throughout the day and
- Fever, which may be high with some lower respiratory system
infections, such as pneumonia.
- Difficulty breathing. You may notice:
- Rapid breathing.
- Grunting, which is heard during the breathing out (exhaling)
phase of breathing. Most babies grunt occasionally when they sleep. But
grunting that occurs with rapid, shallow breathing may mean lower
respiratory system infection.
- Wheezing (which is a different sound than
- Flaring the nostrils and using the neck, chest, and abdominal
muscles to breathe, causing a "sucking in" between or under the ribs (retractions).
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
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
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 and