Pediatric Respiratory Infections Every Parent Should Know About

Rates of pediatric respiratory infections typically spike during the U.S.’s cold and flu season each year. While these infections are often harmless and short-lived in older children, they can have dangerous consequences for infants or children with underlying medical conditions. Here are three potentially serious pediatric respiratory infections every parent should be aware of.

1) Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a respiratory virus that spreads rampantly during the U.S.’s cold and flu season. The infection is so common that 97% of children will have had RSV by their second birthday.

In older children with healthy immune systems, the infection is usually mild and harmless. Symptoms are like those of a common cold, including a runny nose, cough, headache and fever.

However, RSV can be dangerous in young children, in anyone with underlying heart or lung disease, or in anyone who is immunocompromised. RSV leads to around 58,000 hospitalizations a year.

It’s important for parents to recognize signs of respiratory distress and seek prompt medical care if their child develops any of these signs, including lethargy, nostril-flaring, rapid breathing, audible wheezing or grunting, or visible retractions of chest muscles when the child breathes.

2) Pertussis

Pertussis is a respiratory infection caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It’s often called “whooping cough” because of the sound patients make when they cough.

In older children and adults, a course of oral antibiotics typically resolves the infection without any serious complications. However, infants and young children are at a high risk of life-threatening complications because their immune systems are immature, and their airways are narrow.

Symptoms of pertussis in infants and young children typically begin as a runny nose, low-grade fever and cough. The infection then progresses to sudden, violent coughing attacks called paroxysms that can cause children to cough until they vomit. Other serious symptoms include blue lips or nail beds, increased work of breathing, lethargy, and exhaustion. Children with any of these symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that prevents pertussis infections and transmission. The pediatric version is called Dtap (which stands for diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis). The vaccine for older children and adults contains similar ingredients, but with more tetanus than diphtheria, so it’s called a Tdap.

Most people need a Tdap booster every 10 years once they’ve completed their pediatric immunizations. However, because infants don’t finish the 3-dose Dtap series until they turn six months old, it’s recommended that pregnant women get a Tdap booster in each pregnancy, typically between 27-36 weeks of gestation. Also, any relatives or caregivers who have contact with infants should have an up-to-date Tdap booster as well.

3) Croup

 Croup is an infection of the larynx (voice box) and upper airway. The formal diagnosis is called ​​laryngotracheobronchitis. Croup is almost always caused by a viral infection. The symptoms include a barking cough, a hoarse voice, and a fever. Children with croup are often treated with a dose of an oral steroid that decreases the inflammation in their larynx and upper airway and helps the symptoms resolve faster.

In young children or children with underlying medical conditions, croup can cause more serious symptoms, including respiratory distress and hypoxia. These children typically need more intensive, hospital-based treatments that include steroids, supplemental oxygen and I.V. fluids. Any child exhibiting symptoms of respiratory distress needs immediate medical attention since children in respiratory distress can rapidly decompensate into life-threatening respiratory and cardiac arrest.


At GoHealth Urgent Care we’re open 7 days a week, and we see kids ages 6 months and up.