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Overview of Viral Respiratory Tract Infections in Children

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Jan 2020
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What are viral respiratory tract infections?

Upper respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, affect mostly the nose and throat.

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?

Symptoms include:

  • Runny and stuffy nose

  • Cough

  • Scratchy throat

  • Sometimes fever

A severe infection can cause:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Fast breathing

  • Wheezing

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:

  • Isn't drinking

  • 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:

  • Rest

  • Drink fluids

  • 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:

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