Research-backed

Common Childhood Illnesses: Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

Common Childhood Illnesses Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention

Image: iStock

IN THIS ARTICLE

Almost all children get common childhood illnesses such as colds and other respiratory infections, sore throat, ear infections, and skin infections at some point. Despite being preventable and curable, many common childhood illnesses can result in complications, mortality, and morbidity due to delays in seeking medical care.

Therefore, parents and caregivers must be aware of common childhood conditions to make timely decisions. Read this post to learn about some common childhood illnesses, including their symptoms and treatments and ways to prevent them.

Common Childhood Illnesses: Their Symptoms And Treatments

Being aware of the common childhood illnesses can help you understand what illness your child might be having and provide proper treatment.

Note: The information given in this post is for the sole purpose of making parents aware of the common illnesses in children. Seek a healthcare provider’s consultation or advice to diagnose and treat any illness in children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), some of the most common childhood illnesses and their approved treatments are as follows (1).

1. Sore throat

Sore throat is an infection that causes pain and irritation, often felt as scratchiness, to the throat. It is common in children, and the symptoms may often worsen while swallowing food. Various viruses and bacteria can cause this. Strep throat, which is caused by group A streptococcus, is highly contagious and can spread through respiratory droplets or contact with infected persons.

The common symptoms of sore throat may include (2).

  • Pain
  • Itchy or scratchy throat
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Voice changes
  • Pus or white patches on the tonsils
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Body ache
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting

In addition to the clinical features and physical examination, lab tests and rapid strep throat tests of throat swabs are done at the doctor’s office to diagnose strep throat. Strep throat cannot be confirmed without these tests. After the tests, children with strep throat receive antibiotic prescriptions.

It is necessary to take the prescribed course of antibiotics even though the symptoms improve or go away to avoid complications, such as rheumatic fever. Sore throats caused by viruses are not treated with antibiotics. Most children with viral strep throat get better in ten days. Steroid medications are also not recommended for sore throat treatment.

2. Ear pain

Ear pain or earache is common in children, and this can be felt as sharp, burning, or dull pain in one or both ears. Some children may have short-term pain, while others may have ongoing pain until the underlying condition is resolved.

The common symptoms associated with ear pain may include (3).

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Jaw pain
  • Pain while chewing
  • Ear discharge that is often foul-smelling
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Itching

The common causes of childhood ear pain may include

  • Middle ear infection (otitis media) caused by allergies, viruses, and bacteria
  • Outer ear canal infection (otitis externa) or swimmer’s ear, which is usually caused when the water in the ear canal is not drained out well after swimming.
  • Pressure in the ear due to cold or sinus infections
  • Teeth pain radiating to the jaw and the ears

Treatments for ear pain in children may include the following.

  • Ear pain with high fever can be due to abacterial infection, and pediatricians may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Antibiotic treatment with amoxicillin is often prescribed for middle ear infections. Other antibiotics are given only for children with allergies to penicillin and recurrent or chronic ear infections.
  • Ear infections caused by viruses do not require antibiotics. Doctors may suggest applying a warm compress (warm cloth) over the affected ears to relieve pain in mild cases.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), pain-relieving ear drops, and decongestants are usually prescribed for severe ear pain due to viral infections.

Pediatricians may recommend office visits to observe a child’s ear using an otoscope for accurate diagnosis, as the symptoms alone may not be enough to determine the exact cause in many cases.

3. Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections(UTIs) can affect any part of the urinary system, including the urethra, bladder, ureter, and kidneys, and are often caused by the build-up of bacteria. A UTI may occur at any age, and girls are more vulnerable than boys due to the shorter length of the urethra (4).

Wiping the anal region in the wrong direction after toilet use can spread bacteria to the urethra in children. These infections usually spread from the lower urinary tracts to the upper tracts and further from the urethra to the kidneys. The common types of UTIs include

  • Cystitis (bladder infection)
  • Ureteritis (ureter infection)
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)
  • Urethritis (urethra infection)

The following signs and symptoms are seen in UTIs in children.

  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Side or groin pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Fever
  • Urgency to urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • Bedwetting (enuresis) in toilet trained children

Pediatricians usually order urine tests before prescribing medications. Antibiotic treatments for UTIs may vary according to the causative agents found in a child’s urine. Doctors may also suggest taking extra fluids and schedule follow-up visits to test the urine after treatment.

4. Skin infections

Skin infections are common in childhood and may affect any part of the body. Pediatric dermatologists may observe the skin infection and often order skin culture or biopsy of the skin swab to identify the exact causes. The following types of skin infections are usually seen in pediatric populations (5).

  • Bacterial skin infections: These may include cellulitis (infection of the skin surface and underlying tissue), impetigo (strep or staph infection with blisters and scaling), and paronychia (infection around the nails).
  • Fungal skin infections: These include paronychia and tinea infections (dermatophyte infection of the skin, nails, and scalp). Athlete’s foot (affects the skin between the toes and toenails), jock itch (affects the groin and upper thigh skin), ringworm (circular rash anywhere on the skin) are common types of tinea infections in children.
  • Erythema multiforme: This is a skin eruption with a target lesion that appears as a bull’s-eye-shaped rash. It may occur as a reaction to drugs and can be due to a bacterial, fungal, viral, or yeast infection.

The common symptoms of skin infection in children may include

  • Skin rashes and eruptions (elevated bumps)
  • Red, itchy skin
  • Painful rashes
  • Swelling of the affected skin (inflammation)
  • Fever
  • Rashes

The treatment options for skin infections may vary depending on the cause. Topical or oral antifungals, antibiotics, or antivirals are prescribed depending on the type of infection and severity. Most children respond well to the treatment, and the skin lesions may clear up in a few weeks. You may also apprise the doctors of the history of MRSA infections, staph infection, or other resistant bacteria in children or family members.

5. Bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tube linings in the lungs. Most children may have this infection for a short term (acute bronchitis). A long-term bronchial infection called chronic bronchitis is rare in children. Viruses, bacteria, and airway irritants can cause acute bronchitis in children.

Children with asthma, allergies, large tonsils or adenoids, and chronic sinusitis are more likely to develop bronchitis. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase a child’s risk (6).

The symptoms of bronchitis in children may include

  • Dry cough or a productive cough (with sputum).
  • Runny nose.
  • Chest pain.
  • Chills and mild fever.
  • Chest congestion or tightness.
  • Feeling unwell.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Wheezing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Vomiting.

Most of the bronchitis symptoms can last up to a week or two. However, the cough may continue for a few more weeks, even after the infection clears. Sputum samples, chest X-rays, and pulse oximetry can help diagnose bronchitis. Even though children may cough for more than eight or ten days, they may not require antibiotics.

Pediatricians may recommend plenty of rest, fluids, humidifiers, and cough, fever, and pain medications for children. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are usually prescribed for fever and pain. Aspirin should not be given to children since it may cause Reye’s syndrome. Cough medications are also given with caution according to the child’s age and other factors.

6. Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is the inflammation (swelling) of the smaller airways (bronchioles) in the lungs and is common in early spring and winter (cold and flu seasons). Children younger than two years are commonly affected by this condition. Preemies, babies who have not been breastfed, children exposed to smoke, and children who go to daycare are more likely to develop bronchiolitis (7).

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of bronchiolitis. Rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, and human metapneumovirus can also cause bronchiolitis. However, bacteria rarely cause bronchiolitis in children.

The common symptoms of bronchiolitis in children may include

  • Runny nose.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Fever.
  • Wheezing.
  • Cough.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Irritability.

Pulse oximetry, chest X-rays, and blood tests, including arterial gases, can help with the diagnosis. Most treatments are aimed at symptomatic relief, and breathing is monitored during the illness. Breathing troubles require hospitalized care, and antibiotics are usually not required. IV fluids and oxygen supplementation with breathing therapies can be beneficial.

7. Pain

Pain is one of the common problems experienced by most children. Injury, illnesses, and medical procedures can cause acute pain in children and increase stress and anxiety in children and parents. Children can also experience growing pains on the musculoskeletal system, usually in the front of thighs and calves during growth spurts, and they may complain of throbbing or cramping aches. Overindulging in activities can also cause pain and aches in children.

Pain is often inadequately assessed and treated in children. Treatments for pain are aimed at providing symptomatic relief. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen are usually prescribed for pediatric pains. Although these medications are available over-the-counter, you may talk to the pediatrician for the exact doses based on your child’s weight and age. You may also try warm compresses and massages to relieve pain (8).

Narcotic pain medications are not recommended for children with acute pain due to common injuries and illnesses such as ear pain, leg pain, ankle sprain, or sore throats. Painkillers such as codeine are also not recommended for pediatric use since they may result in life-threatening side effects in children.

8. Common cold

A common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by various viruses. Although many viruses can cause colds in children, rhinoviruses are the most common culprits. These viruses are spread directly from respiratory drops of an infected person while coughing or sneezing or indirectly by touching a contaminated surface or infected person (9).

Most children have six to eight colds per year, and it can be high among younger children attending daycares or child care centers. The incidence may reduce after six years of age. The common symptoms of cold may include

  • Runny nose.
  • Nasal congestion or stuffy nose.
  • Cough.
  • Mild fever.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Watery eyes.

Some children may have green mucus discharge from their noses during viral colds for a few days. Cold symptoms may improve within ten days. Doctors may recommend the use of humidifiers and ask the child to drink fluids and take enough rest during colds. Some children may receive symptomatic treatments. Antibiotics are only prescribed if bacterial sinusitis is suspected with a common cold.

9. Bacterial sinusitis

Bacterial sinusitis is an inflammation of the lining of the sinus caused by bacteria trapped inside the sinuses. Children can also get viral sinusitis after a common cold and allergic sinusitis related to hay fever (10).

The common symptoms of bacterial sinusitis in children may include

  • Cold-like symptoms such as daytime cough and nasal discharge lasting more than ten days.
  • Thick yellow nasal discharge and fever for three or more days in a row.
  • Irritability.
  • Severe headaches.
  • swelling around the eyes and light sensitivity.

Antibiotics for ten or more days are prescribed for children with bacterial sinusitis.

10. Cough

A cough is the body’s way of responding to throat or airway irritation. A cough can be dry (without sputum) or wet (productive, with sputum) and of various characteristics depending on the cause. Symptoms of underlying conditions such as fever, nasal congestion or runny nose, and throat irritation, can also be associated with coughs in many cases.

The common causes of cough in children may include

  • Viral infections of the airways.
  • Bacterial airway infections.
  • Cough as a part of normal airway clearance.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke and chemical fumes or gases.
  • Improper swallowing of foods.

Cough treatments in children may include the following.

  • Antibiotics are prescribed for coughs due to bacterial infections.
  • Viral coughs may not require antibiotics, and doctors may recommend use of humidifiers or cool mist vapors.
  • You may also try home remedies, such as honey, to relieve cough. However, do not give honey to infants younger than one year since this may cause infant botulism.
  • Cough syrups and medicines are recommended for children above four to six years. Always seek a prescription for cough medicines since many are not approved for children of a certain age.

Over-the-counter cough medicines can pose serious side effects in babies and children younger than four years (11). Cough medicines containing codeine are not recommended for children under 12 years and children and adolescents up to 18 years with asthma and other respiratory or breathing issues. Codeine is a narcotic cough suppressant, but it can be dangerous since it slows down the heart rate and breathing rate (12).

Children are also vulnerable to many other diseases such as polio, rotavirus, hepatitis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), mumps, and chickenpox. However, childhood immunizations help prevent these diseases. Unvaccinated children have a high risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, especially during outbreaks.

Ways To Prevent Common Childhood Illnesses

Vaccinations as per schedule can prevent many childhood illnesses. You may also consider the annual influenza vaccine (yearly flu shot) for all children above six months of age. This may reduce the incidences and severity of influenza and related complications.

The following home care tips can also prevent common childhood illnesses (13).

  1. Maintain hand hygiene. Washing hands with soap and water or sanitizing with alcohol-based sanitizer before touching face, nose, or eyes, before eating, after using the toilet, and after coming from outside may reduce the risk of certain viral and bacterial illnesses.
  1. Follow cough and sneeze etiquette at home. Anyone sneezing or coughing should cover the face and nose with a napkin or elbows to avoid spreading germs in the air.
  1. Clean high contact areas such as doorknobs, toys, and surfaces with disinfectants
  1. Avoid exposure to allergic triggers if the child has allergies.
  1. Keep children away from infected family members during flu or colds and avoid sharing utensils and personal items.
  1. Use bathing caps or earplugs to keep the ears dry in children vulnerable to swimmers’ ears.

You may also not let your child go to daycare or childcare centers during any illness that can be spread to others. Seek a pediatrician’s advice to know the time to return to school or daycare during consultation.

When To See A Doctor

Although many childhood illnesses may resolve without specific treatments, seeking a pediatrician’s advice for exact diagnosis and care is recommended. In addition, any illnesses with severe symptoms and lasting more than usual require medical care.

Sometimes, mild bacterial or viral infections can develop into more serious infections. So you may seek pediatric consultation if the symptoms worsen or worry about new symptoms or complications. You may also inform the doctor if there is no improvement with treatments.

Vaccinations and proper hygiene measures can prevent most childhood illnesses. You may seek pediatric advice and prescription if your child has any symptoms for diagnosis and treatment. Do not give antibiotics without a prescription for childhood illnesses since many are of viral origin. A healthy diet, plenty of fluids, and proper rest during any illness can help the child recover faster.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. 10 Common Childhood Illnesses and Their Treatments.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/treatments/Pages/10-Common-Childhood-Illnesses-and-Their-Treatments.aspx
  2. Sore Throat (Viral).
    https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/sore-throat
  3. Ear Pain In Children.
    https://www.mottchildren.org/posts/your-child/ear-pain-children
  4. Urinary Tract Infection In Children.
    https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/u/urinary-tract-infections-in-children
  5. Skin Infections.
    https://www.rileychildrens.org/health-info/skin-infections
  6. Acute Bronchitis In Children.
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=acute-bronchitis-in-children-90-P02930
  7. Bronchiolitis In Children.
    https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions—pediatrics/b/bronchiolitis-in-children.html
  8. The Assessment and Management of Acute Pain in Infants, Children, and Adolescents.
    https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/108/3/793
  9. Common Cold In Children.
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=90&contentid=P02966
  10. Sinusitis In Children.
    https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=sinusitis-in-children-90-P02063
  11. Can I give my 5-year-old over-the-counter cough medicine?.
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/Can-I-give-my-5-year-old-cough-medicine.aspx
  12. Codeine not to be used in children below 12 years for cough and cold.
    https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/news/codeine-not-be-used-children-below-12-years-cough-cold
  13. Childhood Illnesses: Six Tips For How To Prevent Them.
    https://www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/your-babys-health/common-illnesses/childhood-illnesses-six-tips-for-how-prevent-them

Recommended Articles

The following two tabs change content below.

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more