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Parent Information - Details 1

Common Childhood Infections

There was a time when childhood infections killed thousands of children. Today, vaccines protect against many of those infections, but you cannot immunize your child against every infectious disease. If you know the signs and symptoms of the most common childhood infections, you can at least help your sick child get better. It is also important to know when to contact your pediatrician. Do so if you see signs of any of the following illnesses and are concerned (especially if your child is under 2 months of age). Use the following information as a guide to common childhood infections.

Causes of infections
Most infections in children are caused by viruses, but they can also be caused by bacteria. Bacteria can live in certain parts of the body without causing any harm. They cause infections when they move to parts of the body where they do not belong. They can also come into the body from the outside; in the body they can cause an infection that requires treatment with an antibiotic. Most viral diseases are not treated with an antibiotic because antibiotics do not work on viruses. Instead, the body gets rid of viruses on its own. When your child has a virus, your pediatrician will tell you how to make your child more comfortable. You should also make sure your child gets plenty of rest and eats a balanced diet.

We all know the symptoms of the common cold — sneezing, watery eyes, a cough, and a stuffy, runny nose. A child with a cold will often be cranky and have a mild fever and a headache. Since there are hundreds of viruses that cause colds, there is still no vaccine for the common cold. Symptoms can be relieved with:
        • a cool-mist vaporizer
        • acetaminophen to bring down a fever
        • decongestants
        • lots of fluids A cold usually lasts about a week.

Any fever should appear at the beginning of the cold and then go away. Contact your pediatrician if:
        • a fever continues or goes up during the week,
        • symptoms seem to get worse after a week, or
        • your child has problems breathing or ear pain.

Ear infections:
Occasionally, children with colds will develop an earache. Since younger infants cannot complain of ear pain, be on the lookout for other signs. Fussiness, fever, or fluid draining from your child’s ear may mean your child has an ear infection. If your child has any of those symptoms, your pediatrician will examine her to determine if an ear infection is present. If there is one, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria that cause the infection. Be sure to give your child the full dose of the antibiotic for the whole time it is prescribed. This is important even if symptoms go away within a few days. You can give acetaminophen (in a dose recommended by your pediatrician) to ease any ear pain, but do not give aspirin. Aspirin has been linked with Reye syndrome, a serious disease that affects the liver and brain. After your child finishes the antibiotic, the pediatrician should check her ears again. Even after the pain and fever have gone, fluid can still remain. This can lead to more infections or future hearing problems.

Strep Throat:
Strep throat is a bacterial infection. On rare occasions it can lead to serious problems if not treated. Strep usually develops in children over 3 years of age. Signs of strep include a sore throat, fever, and swollen glands in the neck. (If there is also a skin rash, the condition is called scarlet fever.) Since many viruses can cause the same symptoms as strep, your pediatrician will need to test for strep to be sure your child has it. To do this, he or she will obtain a throat culture or do a rapid strep test. If your child does have strep throat, your pediatrician will prescribe an antibiotic that will destroy the strep germ. After 24 to 36 hours of antibiotic treatment, your child is no longer contagious and should start to feel better. Remember to have your child finish all the medicine. If you stop treatment too early, the infection may come back or cause other problems. If not treated, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever. This can cause damage to the heart and swelling of the joints. Untreated strep throat can also lead to kidney disease and a number of other health problems.

When your child has a cold, the sinuses around his nose often get stuffy and swollen. Sometimes the mucus in the sinuses may get infected with bacteria. When this happens, your child has a sinus infection. Sinusitis usually develops after your child has had a cold for at least 10 days. Signs of sinusitis are:
        • persistent nasal discharge
        • fever
        • a cough during the day and night, that often gets worse at night
        • tenderness in the face
        • headaches An antibiotic will destroy the bacteria that cause sinusitis.

Croup is a scary illness for most parents because of its symptoms. Your child may go to bed with a runny nose and mild cough, but wake up during the night with a cough that sounds like a seal’s bark. Croup is usually caused by a viral infection in and around the voice box. Your child’s breathing may become noisy and labored, a condition called stridor. Your child may or may not have a fever. Most cases of croup can be handled at home with the advice of your pediatrician. A cool-mist vaporizer may help. If you do not have one, turn on the hot water in your shower or bathtub and let the bathroom fill up with steam. Stay with your child in the bathroom while he breathes in the steam for a few minutes. Keep a close eye on your child so that he does not burn himself with the hot water. (Try sitting with your child on your lap, and read a short story to pass the time.) Or you could take your child for a walk in the cool night air. This may help your child to breathe better. If your child has a severe case of croup, your pediatrician may recommend a hospital stay. During the stay, your child may need to be inside a plastic tent called a croup tent. To reduce the swelling around the voice box, doctors may give your child a cortisone medication or a medication to inhale.

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