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Children and Colds

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Your Child's Cold: When to Call the Doctor?

You should call the doctor if your child is not getting better after a few days of symptoms. You should call the doctor if your child experiences a high fever, vomiting, chills and shakes, a hacking cough, or extreme fatigue. These may be signs of something worse than the common cold -- it could be flu or something more severe. In addition, if your child has asthma, diabetes, or other chronic health conditions, call your doctor to touch base about medications, cold symptoms, and managing your child's medical condition.

When to Be Concerned

Asthma can be a problem for children with colds. Other complications, such as viral pneumonia and Reye's syndrome, can occur, although these are not as common.

Children with asthma have a difficult time with a cold. That's because with a cold the airways are inflamed and can easily become constricted. If your child has asthma, be sure to talk to your child's doctor when cold symptoms begin. That way you can make sure asthma treatment is effective.

Viral pneumonia is an infection and inflammation of the lungs and is one of the most serious complications of the flu and, occasionally, the common cold. Symptoms of viral pneumonia include a low-grade fever (less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit), coughing up mucus, achiness, and tiredness.

Reye's syndrome is a rare but serious disease that can occur in children. While the causes of Reye's syndrome are unknown, it seems to occur when aspirin is administered to treat viral illnesses. Swelling of the brain and changes in blood chemicals because of liver damage can affect the entire body. Symptoms of Reye's syndrome include drowsiness, confusion, seizures, coma, and in severe cases, death.

What Is Croup?

"Croup" is the term used to describe the harsh cough that accompanies a respiratory illness. Croup is a respiratory infection that affects children under age 5, mainly during fall and winter months. Symptoms are most severe in children under age 3. Croup may last from five to six days, depending on the severity of the infection, and may have other complications such as ear infection or pneumonia.

Croup is most commonly caused by viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus [RSV], measles, and adenovirus. Rarely croup can be caused by bacteria. This infection causes the upper airways to swell, making it difficult to breathe.

What Are the Symptoms of Croup?

The symptoms of croup include the following:

  • A harsh or seal-like "barking" cough that often becomes worse at night
  • Stridor, a harsh, raspy vibrating sound when breathing in
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever, up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Restlessness or nervousness at night or when it becomes harder to breathe

Although there are recognizable signs of croup, any illness that complicates your child's breathing should be evaluated by your child's doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

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