Coughs and Colds, Sneeze and Wheeze in Children

When it comes to the number of respiratory infections in our community – this year is a big one. Due to the covid-19 pandemic over the last 2 years, we have had limited exposure to influenza and other respiratory viruses. This reduced exposure means reduced immunity, especially for younger children, resulting in a large number of respiratory infections this winter.

As a parent it can be stressful having a sick child but fortunately most cases can be managed at home with fluids, rest and pain relief. On some occasions, however, your child may need to seek medical advice, especially if symptoms are not improving or getting worse.

Acute Respiratory infections (ARI’s) is the term given to infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract such as throat, sinuses, middle ear, airways and lungs.  They are the most common cause of illness in children under 5, who average three to six episodes of ARI’s every year. Some unlucky children in their first year of day care can get up to 10 ARI’s. The majority come from a viral cause such as rhinovirus , respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza and influenza virus, adenovirus, and coronavirus infections. Symptoms can include cough, sneezing, blocked or runny nose, sore throat, and fever. Other symptoms included fatigue, muscles aches and pains, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and difficulty breathing, tight chest or wheezing.

Most cases of ARI’s get better within 1 – 2 weeks by treating your child’s symptoms at home. But how do you know when to seek medical advice, speak with or see your GP or attend the emergency department? The Sydney Children’s hospital recommends:

  • Severely unwell children – Call triple zero (000) if you child requires urgent medical attention, with symptoms such as difficulty breathing and drowsiness.
  • Mild symptoms – such as a cough, runny nose, slight fever and sore throat.
    • Have a Covid test – Rapid antigen test (RAT) or PCR
    • Keep your child comfortable at home with paracetamol or ibuprofen, plenty of fluids and rest
    • Most ARI’s are caused by a virus which clears up by itself and do not require antibiotics. Antibiotics are only used to treat bacterial infections.
    • Symptoms may last 1 -2 weeks, but sometimes it can take 2 – 3 weeks for other symptoms to settle such as cough
  • If concerned your child is not getting better or has prolonged fevers.
    • Contact your GP. Always phone your GP first before visiting the medical practice if you have respiratory symptoms. They can conduct a telehealth appointment or may arrange to see you. Most practices prefer you to have done a Covid-19 test before attending the practice. Your GP can examine your child – check their ears, throat and listen to their chest to check if additional medical treatment is required
    • If you cannot contact your GP or do not have a GP, call Health Direct 24/7 on 1800 022 222 for expert advice from a nurse over the phone
  • If you are still worried about your child and they are having difficulty breathing, are drowsy, passing less urine and not taking in fluids, then go to the Emergency Department or call Triple Zero 000. The emergency department are seeing high volumes of patients at present so waiting times may be longer, with the sickest patients being seen first.

There are many ways to prevent you or your child’s risk of acute respiratory infections. These include:

  • Influenza vaccines are available for all children over the age of 6 months. It can reduce your child’s risk of infection and severe illness due to the flu. We also recommend all adults receive the influenza vaccine also to help reduce the spread.
  • Covid-19 vaccination for children over the age of 5 and adults.
  • Ensure other recommended childhood vaccinations are up to date.
  • Practice social distancing
  • Regular hand washing
  • Avoid touching surfaces, shaking hands, sharing toys.
  • Limit contact with other people with respiratory infections.

To avoid passing respiratory infections to others, you should;

  • Stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you or your child’s respiratory symptoms have improved and fevers have resolved for more than 24 hours. However, if you have tested positive for covid-19, self-isolation is required for 7 days.
  • Limit contact with other persons in your household – wear a facemask (not for children under 2 years) , cough or sneeze into elbow or tissue, regular hand washing, wash surfaces, and social distancing. This can prove to be difficult with young children and babies!
  • Basically, common sense and good hygiene will help prevent passing of viruses.

We hope you and your family get through this winter without too many acute respiratory infections and the above information will help guide you.  Make sure you are armed with all the recommended vaccinations, practice good hygiene and rest at home if you or your child have any symptoms. If you have any concerns please contact your friendly health professional.


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