Respiratory conditions are very common in both adults and children, but younger lungs can be more vulnerable to problems such as infection and the effects can be more serious.
The most common cause of respiratory symptoms in children is infection. In most cases, the infection will be a mild viral illness such as a cold, but it can also be caused by bacteria. The infection can occur in any part of the airways, from the nose to the lungs. Some respiratory infections can be more serious as there can be complications such as breathing difficulties. However, in most cases children will recover within a few weeks.
Common viral respiratory infections in children include:
- The common cold
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
- Whooping cough or pertussis (children in the UK are vaccinated against this)
Infections are sometimes diagnosed based on their location in the respiratory system rather than the specific germ that is causing them. Children can get:
- Rhinitis (in the nose)
- Sinusitis (in the sinuses)
- Bronchitis (in the larger airways that lead into the lungs)
- Bronchiolitis (in the smaller airways in the lungs)
- Pneumonia (in the air sacs inside the lungs)
Most respiratory infections in children are fairly mild and will clear up by themselves, but it is important to see a doctor if the symptoms are severe, they don’t go away, or your child keeps getting infections. You should go to the nearest A&E if you’re worried about your child’s breathing.
Another common cause of respiratory symptoms in children is asthma. Asthma is a chronic condition that happens when the airways become swollen and narrowed. It can cause wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Severe asthma attacks can even be fatal without treatment.
Although the causes of asthma are not completely understood, it is linked to the immune system and it can run in families. Most people who have asthma are diagnosed in childhood. Some people do grow out of asthma or see an improvement in their symptoms as they get older, but for many it can be a lifelong condition that will require long term management with medication.
Other Lung Conditions
Children can also be affected by many other less common lung conditions. These include hereditary conditions such as cystic fibrosis, problems that can be associated with lifestyle factors such as sleep apnoea, and infections that are rare in the UK such as TB. Children who were born prematurely can be more likely to have respiratory conditions if they were born before their lungs were fully developed.
If you are worried that your child might have asthma or another respiratory condition, then you should see a doctor. You can make an appointment with a respiratory specialist to get advice on managing asthma, treating respiratory infections, or a diagnosis for respiratory symptoms.