Preventing and Treating Respiratory Illness in Kids

It is no secret that with kids comes the awareness that illness can strike abruptly at anytime. Some of the most common are respiratory illnesses. These are ones like RSV, croup, and whooping cough. They are the most common during the stagnant air of winter. How can we identify and prevent these illnesses?

What is RSV, croup and whooping cough?

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is an infection in the lungs. It is most common in ages 0-2, but it can affect older children. This illness begins just like a common cold; runny nose, mild fever. It is incredibly important to note, though, that because of the underdeveloped lungs and weak immune system, these symptoms can very quickly turn to rapid breathing, bouts of coughing, irritability, and possible wheezing when coughing or trying to breathe.

Croup (laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis) can be caused by a virus or a bacterial infection. It can be caused by an illness such as RSV. It will cause inflammation of vocal chords and surrounding tissue. It may or may not be accompanied by a fever, mainly depending on what illness brought on the croup.

Whopping cough (pertussis) is a contagious bacterial infection in the lungs, bronchial tubes, and larynx. It’s nickname comes from the “whooping” sound that a child makes when they are coughing. It starts out as just a normal cold with a runny or stuffy nose. It progresses to forceful dry cough without mucous. There may be a fever, loss of appetite, and irritability.

What should a parent do if they notice symptoms of one of these illnesses?

If the illness is not severe, the treatment is similar to the treatment for a cold. Lots of rest and plenty of fluids. Using a humidifier may be helpful or running a hot shower so that the child can breathe in the steam. If the child seems to be in distress, having any trouble breathing, or is not getting any better, you will need to seek medical attention. If you feel concerned at anytime, you should never hesitate to reach out to your physician.

What are some ways to prevent respiratory illnesses?

Again, this is similar to common cold prevention. Your children should properly wash their hands (lathering the entire hand, including the backs, between fingers, and under nails for at least 20 seconds). Hand washing should be done regularly! No need to wait until they use the bathroom. Before meals, after playing outside, after going into a store, and especially after coughing or blowing their nose. As a parent, you should clean surfaces that are touched frequently and if you do have a sick child, keep the away from other children and adults so they don’t spread the illness. Whooping cough is an exception in that the prevention for that comes in the form of a vaccine (DTaP) which is usually given at a young age.

Having a sick child can be scary, but if you are looking for the proper warning signs and taking the proper precautions then you will be well prepared for whatever comes your way!