What are viral respiratory tract infections?
Your respiratory tract is your breathing passages. It includes your nose, throat, windpipe, and your lungs and their airways. Many viruses can infect your respiratory tract. Common viral respiratory tract infections include the common cold Common Cold The common cold is a viral infection. It's one of the most common illnesses people get. Colds spread easily from person to person, especially within the first 2 days of symptoms Symptoms include... read more and flu Influenza (Flu) Influenza, often called the flu, is a viral infection that affects your lungs and airways. Flu symptoms are a little bit like the common cold but are much more severe. The flu spreads easily... read more .
Upper respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, affect mostly the nose and throat.
Lower respiratory infections, such as COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19 is a potentially severe viral infection that mostly affects your lungs and airways. It's caused by a coronavirus The virus spreads very easily to other people Some infected people have... read more , croup Croup Croup is swelling in the windpipe and voice box. It’s caused by a virus infection and is most common in children ages 6 months to 3 years. Children with croup have a cough that sounds like a... read more , bronchiolitis Bronchiolitis Bronchioles are small airways in your lungs. "-Itis" means inflammation. So bronchiolitis is inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. The inflammation makes it hard for children to breathe... read more , and pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more , affect mostly the lungs and airways.
On average, children get 6 viral respiratory infections a year—the infections tend to spread from child to child in day care centers and schools
Viral respiratory tract infections cause a runny nose, cough, and scratchy throat
Most infections aren't severe, but some infections cause dangerous breathing problems
Washing hands helps prevent these infections from spreading
The flu vaccine Influenza Vaccine The influenza virus vaccine helps protect against influenza. Two types of influenza virus, type A and type B, regularly cause seasonal epidemics of influenza in the United States. There are... read more prevents flu, but there aren't any vaccines for colds or other viral respiratory tract infections
What causes viral respiratory tract infections in children?
Many different viruses cause respiratory tract infections. Children get these infections from other children who are sick. Mucus from a sick child's runny nose is full of viruses. The mucus gets on children's hands and whatever the children touch gets covered with viruses. If healthy children touch something covered with viruses and then touch their nose or mouth, they can get the infection.
Viral respiratory tract infections spread easily among groups of children, such as children in child care centers or schools.
What are the symptoms of a viral respiratory tract infection?
Runny and stuffy nose
Often, viral respiratory infections trigger asthma attacks in children with asthma Asthma in Children Asthma causes the airways to become narrow, which makes it hard for your child to breathe. Asthma often starts in childhood, especially before age 5. Many common things can trigger asthma attacks... read more .
A severe infection can cause:
When should my child see a doctor for a viral respiratory tract infection?
Healthy children with mild symptoms don't usually need to see a doctor.
See a doctor right away if your child is having trouble breathing
Take your child to a doctor if your child:
Has a fever
Isn't getting better after a few days
How can doctors tell if my child has a viral respiratory tract infection?
Doctors can tell from examining your child. Tests aren't usually needed.
How do doctors treat viral respiratory tract infections in children?
Doctors will have your child:
Take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) for fever and aches
If your child is school-age, take decongestant medicine (babies and young children shouldn't take this medicine)
To ease symptoms in babies and young children, it may help to:
Use a cool-mist humidifier
Suction mucus from the baby's nose with a rubber suction bulb
Antibiotics won't help and aren't needed to treat viral respiratory tract infections.
How can I prevent a viral respiratory tract infection in my child?
To keep infections from spreading:
Wash your hands and your child's hands often
Keep sick children home from school or day care