As winter has come to a close, children and their families may they feel like everyone in the house has been sick forever! It can be frustrating as a parent as the long nights turn into long months. Colds in children lead to loss of sleep for child and parents, visits to the pediatrician’s office, and a lot of missed work.

What is the average number of respiratory tract infections?

Healthy children typically experience six to eight upper respiratory tract infections (cold, runny nose, cough, sore throat symptoms) per year in the first few years of life. However, up to 15 infections per year can still be within the normal range!

The reason children have infections this often in the first years of life is because their immune system is still maturing and due to their continued exposure to respiratory virus/bacteria in day care and/or school. It can take many years for children to develop their immune system enough to decrease the number of infections as there are at least 100 viruses can cause symptoms of the common cold!

How long does a respiratory tract infection typically last?

Most respiratory infections can take up to two weeks to resolve. Cold viruses occur much more often during the winter compared to summer months, so respiratory infections might occur as often as once a month during the winter!

When you consider all this as a parent, feeling like your child is always sick is not necessarily exaggerated. It no surprise that parents want relief but when does your children just have normal colds that can be treated at home and when are all these infections something to talk more about with your pediatrician?

When should I be worried?

Pediatric primary care physicians frequently see children who have recurrent infections, most of whom are healthy. A very small amount, about 1 in 500 children, have an immunodeficiency.

An immunodeficiency happens when your body doesn’t have the ability to produce a response to fight viruses and bacteria. Most immunodeficiencies are inherited in our genes so they are present at birth but some may not show signs until late in childhood. It does take time for the pattern of recurrent infections to develop. Most immunodeficiencies will have other symptoms including difficulty gaining weight or growing, taking many months of antibiotics by mouth without improvement of infection or having a close family member who has an immunodeficiency are among some of the signs.

If your child seems to have colds through the winter be reassured that having an underlying abnormality is uncommon. If your children seems to have more going on than just regular colds, you should discuss whether any further work up should be done with your pediatrician to make sure your child stays healthy and successful.

Matthew Saia, MD, is a pediatrician at the University of Vermont Medical Center and assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM in Burlington, VT. He specializes in adolescent care, patient-centered medical home and school-based health.

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