Doc Talk: Upper Respiratory Infections in children

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Pediatric emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital gives parents some much-needed facts about upper respiratory infections in children.

We talked one-on-one with pediatric emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital gives parents some much-needed facts about upper respiratory infections in children.

Upper Respiratory Infections:

  • Also known as the common cold.

  • Short-term viral infection of the upper airway (nose, ears, and throat).

  • Can be caused by many different viruses, including Rhinovirus, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Influenza, Parainfluenza, Adenovirus, Enterovirus, and Coronavirus.

  • Can occur any time of year, but are most common in the fall and winter.

  • Can be spread by direct contact with secretions or inhaling small droplets.

  • Symptoms can include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, headache, and fatigue.

  • Symptoms are caused by the body's immune response to the virus, not the virus itself.

  • Green or dark-colored mucus does not indicate a bacterial infection.

  • People infected with URIs are most contagious for the first 3-5 days, but can be infectious for up to 2 weeks.

  • Children younger than six years old have an average of 6-8 URIs per year, and each one can last 2-3 weeks.

  • Older children usually get 2-4 URIs per year which last about one week.

  • Children in daycare will get more colds than children cared for at home, but less when they start elementary school.

  • Complications include nosebleeds, ear infections, asthma attacks, pneumonia, and sinusitis.

  • There is no cure or antiviral medicine for routine cold viruses.

  • Treatment consists of supportive care, medicine for fever, hydration, nasal suctioning, and humidified air.

  • Cold medicine should not be given to children younger than six and is not recommended for children 6 to 12 years old.


Here is the full transcript of our conversation with Dr. Clint Pollack:

Dr. Pollock: Especially for younger kids, younger than six, it is normal for them to get sick on average six to 8 times per year. Each one of those illnesses can last two to three weeks and so a lot of times parents complain, and they feel like their kids are sick all the time and with younger kids especially kids in daycare that can be true on and off through the fall and winter.

Margot Kim: As parents we want to do something for our children and help them struggling with these symptoms but a lot of times, medicine doesn't help.

Dr. Pollock: It is very frustrating having a baby that is sick, but cough and cold medicines are dangerous for babies and younger kids. Children younger than six are not supposed to get anything other than medicine for fever and kids six to 12 it's not recommended. The cough and cold medicines usually are not as helpful as you think they are going to be and a lot of the times they really don't do much.

Tony Cabrera: I always fear my kid getting another kid sick or another kid sick getting my kid sick. As far as it being contagious, how long can that last?

Dr. Pollock: They are most infectious the first three to five days after they get sick, but they can be sick for up to two weeks. And again it's spread by droplets and secretions, so if kids are coughing they get it on their hand, and they touch another child or touch something. That's how it could be spread or if they cough in the air and you are standing close, and they breathe it. So, hand washing is very important.

Margot Kim: We know the common cold, as this title says, is common. But when should parents worry and maybe seek a doctors help?

Dr. Pollock: Colds can turn into other things like ear infections or pneumonia, but generally, the symptoms will change. They'll start complaining of ear pain or more worsening cough, breathing trouble, increased work of breathing, higher fevers and so if you feel like the symptoms are changing and getting worse all of a sudden then they probably should see a doctor and get checked out.
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