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A parent’s guide: upper respiratory infections

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, 4 min read

A parent’s guide: upper respiratory infections

It may start with a stuffy or runny nose. You might notice hoarseness or a cough. Or your child may wake up with a sore throat. It could be a long nap or a warm forehead that tips you off. When your child isn’t feeling well, as a parent, you just know.

What is an upper respiratory infection?

An upper respiratory infection occurs in the upper airways of the body — the nose, sinuses or throat. Most upper respiratory infections run their course within seven to 10 days.

The common cold is the most common cause.

Just like the name implies, most upper respiratory infections are caused by cold viruses. Coughs, sneezes and close contact spread colds from person to person. Colds are most common in late winter and early spring but can happen throughout the year.

Can medications help upper respiratory infections?

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections such as strep throat or recommend over-the-counter remedies to help control fevers and relieve discomfort.

For most viruses, there is no ‘cure’ as such but supporting your child with fluids and medications if they are indicated, can help make them feel more comfortable.

How can I tell if it’s the flu?

Flu symptoms are generally worse and come on faster.1 The flu can make your child feel tired with fever and shaking chills. Aches and pains, a headache and cough are common.

Could it be strep throat?

The most common symptoms of strep throat are a sudden and severe sore throat, pain when you swallow, and fever. Other symptoms include swollen tonsils and lymph nodes and white or yellow spots on the back of a bright red throat. A throat culture or rapid strep test can be used to diagnose strep throat.2 Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help your child feel better faster.

What about tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. The tonsils are on both sides of the throat, above and behind the tongue and are actually part of the immune system. Tonsillitis can go away on its own after four to 10 days if it is caused by a virus but sometimes it can be caused by bacteria and may need antibiotic treatment.3 If tonsillitis keeps coming back and isn’t helped by antibiotics, the tonsils may be surgically removed.

What if symptoms of an upper respiratory infection continue for more than two weeks?

If it seems like your child has a cold all the time, they may have allergies, sinusitis or another condition so it will be helpful to be seen by a doctor.

What at-home remedies do you generally recommend?

Rest and plenty of fluids are often the best medicine. Some warm soup can be soothing. Saline nasal washes can also help keep your child’s nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens.

Do we need to see the doctor?

Not all colds require a visit to the doctor. Call the pediatrician for a persistent fever, cough or sore throat. You know your child best. If you have concerns, make an appointment. Tests may be able to rule out strep throat, the flu or COVID-19. If your child is having severe trouble breathing, seek emergency care.

Still not feeling well?

If symptoms are not improving or getting worse, check in with a pediatrician. As always, Babylon Health is here for you and your family. To book a Babylon Video Appointment 24/7, download the Babylon Health app.

How can you help your child stay healthy?

Teach your child proper handwashing techniques and encourage them to wash their hands often. Make sure they know not to share drinks, food or utensils. Remind them to keep their hands away from their mouth, nose and eyes.

To help everyone stay healthy, keep your child home from daycare or school when they have upper respiratory symptoms. In crowded indoor environments, masks can help prevent the spread of upper respiratory infections. Flu shots and COVID vaccines can also help protect your children and grandma or grandpa too!

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cold Versus Flu.” Last reviewed September 16, 2021.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Strep Throat: All You Need to Know.” Last reviewed June 27, 2022.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. “Tonsillitis.” Last reviewed July 8, 2022.

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The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.

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