Chest infection is a term often used to include upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, or lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Upper respiratory tract infections in children – especially the really younger ones – often look and sound more worrying then they actually are. Most of the time, they’re nothing to panic over – most of the infections can be eased and cured with a little parental common sense and attention, while the more persistent ones can be treated with prescribed medication. However, if your child is having frequent respiratory infections, then it is important to be seen by your doctor.
Let’s break down the different types of chest infection your child could suffer from:
The common cold
When your child’s immune system is only just starting to develop and toughen up, they’re susceptible to anything that’s going around. The good news is a cold is beneficial for your child in the long run, as it makes the immune system stronger. The bad news is that they’re going to be dealing with them on a regular basis over the first two years of their life: it’s not uncommon for babies to catch a cold between seven and ten times a year.
There’s nothing you can do to treat a cold, but you can alleviate the symptoms. Keep them hydrated, well rested and take down any fevers with paracetamol. And be prepared for a lot of grouchiness.
Sometimes, a cough or cold could be more serious than first thought and a symptom of bronchiolitis, caused by a virus. In this condition, the small breathing tubes or bronchioles become congested and this leads to a dry cough, difficulty in breathing, high temperature and understandable irritability. The chances of your child needing hospital treatment are low, although if your child has breathing difficulties, poor feeding, becomes exhausted or is having pauses in their breathing, it is important to see a doctor urgently.
Symptoms that your child may have a more serious lung infection or pneumonia include high fever, persisting cough, chest pain or difficulty in breathing. It can be difficult to tell whether your child has a more serious infection or just a bad cold, and it does need a review by your doctor. Treatment for pneumonia usually involves antibiotics and in more severe cases admission to hospital.
Warning signs in a baby
Obviously, your baby is not going to sit up one morning and tell you they’re feeling a bit rough. The emotional response to a chest infection can be similar to all manner of reactions to discomfort, so the onus is on you, the parent, to get to the root of the problem as early as possible. Look for other signs that all is not well during feeding time: if they’re having difficulty sucking, breathing and swallowing at the same time, that usually indicates a blockage of the airways. Similarly, if your baby is showing signs of tiredness and exhaustion, it could indicate they their respiratory system is working overtime to blast through the blockage.
There’s a lot of speculation about vaccinations these days and a search online can often raise parental concerns. We always say that your child needs to be kept up to date with their course of vaccinations, as they really do help them fend off the worst type of infections. There are ways and means to boost your child’s immune system through diet and lifestyle choices, and they’re always worth pursuing – but they should always be a supplement to a vaccination programme, not a substitute.