Preventing and Treating Respiratory Illness in Kids


If you have kids or are around them on a regular basis, you are very aware that an illness can strike at any moment. Dr. Jose Cucalon of Renown Pediatrics discusses some common respiratory illnesses and prevention.

Respiratory illnesses such as RSV, croup and whooping cough are more common during winter when we are all cooped up together. We asked Jose Cucalon, MD, of Renown Pediatrics how to prevent and spot respiratory illness in children.

What is RSV, croup and whooping cough?

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is an infection of the lungs. It is more common in children ages 0-2, but can affect older children as well. RSV begins like the common cold, with a runny nose, and a mild fever. For infants with underdeveloped lungs or young children who don’t fight off infections well, these cold symptoms turn to rapid breathing, bouts of coughing, irritability that is more than a cranky episode, and a possible wheezing when coughing or trying to breathe.

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Croup, or laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis, can be caused by a virus or bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, meaning it could be caused by an illness such as RSV. As a viral infection, it causes inflammation of vocal chords and surrounding tissue. There may or may not be a fever, depending on what illness has brought on the croup.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a contagious bacterial infection that affects the lungs, bronchial tubes and larynx. It is known for the “whooping’” sound a child makes as he/she is coughing. The illness begins as a regular cold with a runny or stuffy nose, but then progresses to forceful coughing along with the whooping sound. The coughing is usually a dry cough (without mucous). There may also be a fever, loss of appetite and irritability.

What should a parent do if they notice symptoms of one of these illnesses?

Treatment for less severe cases of these illnesses is similar to treating a cold. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids, and it may be helpful to use a humidifier or run a hot shower and let your child breathe in the steam. If your child seems to be in distress, is having trouble breathing or if the symptoms are not getting better, it’s time to seek medical care. If you have any concerns, you should always contact your child’s care provider.

What are some ways to prevent respiratory illnesses?

As with treatment, prevention is similar to common cold prevention. Teach your children how to properly wash their hands (lather the entire hand, including the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails and then scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds). Handwashing should be done regularly, but especially after coughing or blowing your nose. Clean surfaces that are touched frequently and if you have a sick child, keep them away from other children and adults until they feel better to help prevent the spread of the illness. Whooping cough is unique in that prevention comes in the form of a vaccine (DTaP) that is typically given to children at a young age.