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Respiratory Problems,Age 11 and Younger - Topic Overview

The most common sites for bacterial infections in the upper respiratory system are the sinuses and throat. A sinus infection is an example of an upper respiratory bacterial infection.

Bacterial pneumonia may follow a viral illness as a secondary infection or appear as the first sign of a lower respiratory infection. In babies and small children, the first sign of infection often is rapid breathing, irritability, decreased activity, and poor feeding. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections.

Tuberculosis is a less common bacterial infection of the lower respiratory system.

Allergies are a common cause of respiratory problems. Allergy symptoms in children include:

  • Clear, runny drainage from the nose or a stuffy nose. Children often rub their noses by pushing the tip upward with the palm of the hand ("allergic salute").
  • Sneezing and watery eyes. Often there are dark circles under the eyes ("allergic shiners").
  • Irritability and loss of appetite.

Babies and small children usually do not have asthma. But the number of new cases of asthma increases with age.

  • In babies and small children, a hacking cough may be the only symptom of mild asthma.
  • If asthma worsens, symptoms may include wheezing and shortness of breath after exercise or at nighttime.
  • In severe asthma, difficulty breathing (using the neck, chest, and abdominal muscles to breathe) and a high-pitched sound when breathing (wheezing) are the most common symptoms.
  • Allergies and asthma often occur together. For more information, see the topic Asthma in Children.

Besides asthma, allergies, and infection, other possible causes of respiratory problems in children include:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke. Tobacco smoke impairs lung growth and development. Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke, even before birth (prenatal), are more likely to have asthma and other respiratory problems.
  • Blockage of the airway by an inhaled object, such as food, a piece of a balloon, or a small toy. For more information, see the topic Swallowed or Inhaled Objects.
  • Problems that have been present from birth (genetic causes), such as cystic fibrosis.

Babies and children younger than age 3 may have more symptoms with respiratory problems than older children, and they may become more ill. For this reason, younger children need to be watched more closely. The type and severity of the symptoms helps determine whether your child needs to see a doctor.

Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a doctor.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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