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Overview of Viral Respiratory Tract Infections in Children


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2023
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What are viral respiratory tract infections?

Upper respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, affect mostly the nose and throat.

What causes viral respiratory tract infections in children?

Many different viruses cause respiratory tract infections. Children get these infections from other children who are sick. Mucus from a sick child's runny nose is full of viruses. The mucus gets on children's hands and whatever the children touch gets covered with viruses. If healthy children touch something covered with viruses and then touch their nose or mouth, they can get the infection.

Viral respiratory tract infections spread easily among groups of children, such as children in child care centers or schools.

What are the symptoms of a viral respiratory tract infection?

Symptoms include:

  • Runny and stuffy nose

  • Cough

  • Scratchy throat

  • Sometimes fever

A severe infection can cause:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Fast breathing

  • Wheezing

When should my child see a doctor for a viral respiratory tract infection?

Healthy children with mild symptoms don't usually need to see a doctor.

  • See a doctor right away if your child is having trouble breathing

Take your child to a doctor if your child:

  • Isn't drinking

  • Has a fever

  • Isn't getting better after a few days

How can doctors tell if my child has a viral respiratory tract infection?

Doctors can tell from examining your child. Tests aren't usually needed.

How do doctors treat viral respiratory tract infections in children?

Doctors will have your child:

  • Rest

  • Drink fluids

  • Take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) for fever and aches

  • If your child is school-age, take decongestant medicine (babies and young children shouldn't take this medicine)

To ease symptoms in babies and young children, it may help to:

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier

  • Suction mucus from the baby's nose with a rubber suction bulb

Antibiotics won't help and aren't needed to treat viral respiratory tract infections.

How can I prevent a viral respiratory tract infection in my child?

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
7T Gummy ES, Acephen, Aceta, Actamin, Adult Pain Relief, Anacin Aspirin Free, Aphen, Apra, Children's Acetaminophen, Children's Pain & Fever , Children's Pain Relief, Comtrex Sore Throat Relief, ED-APAP, ElixSure Fever/Pain, Feverall, Genapap, Genebs, Goody's Back & Body Pain, Infantaire, Infants' Acetaminophen, LIQUID PAIN RELIEF, Little Fevers, Little Remedies Infant Fever + Pain Reliever, Mapap, Mapap Arthritis Pain, Mapap Infants, Mapap Junior, M-PAP, Nortemp, Ofirmev, Pain & Fever , Pain and Fever , PAIN RELIEF , PAIN RELIEF Extra Strength, Panadol, PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Children's Smooth Metls Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Infant's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, Pediaphen, PHARBETOL, Plus PHARMA, Q-Pap, Q-Pap Extra Strength, Silapap, Triaminic Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Triaminic Infant Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Tylenol, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol 8 Hour Arthritis Pain, Tylenol 8 Hour Muscle Aches & Pain, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Children's, Tylenol Children's Pain+Fever, Tylenol CrushableTablet, Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Infants', Tylenol Infants Pain + Fever, Tylenol Junior Strength, Tylenol Pain + Fever, Tylenol Regular Strength, Tylenol Sore Throat, XS No Aspirin, XS Pain Reliever
Advil, Advil Children's, Advil Children's Fever, Advil Infants', Advil Junior Strength, Advil Migraine, Caldolor, Children's Ibuprofen, ElixSure IB, Genpril , Ibren , IBU, Midol, Midol Cramps and Body Aches, Motrin, Motrin Children's, Motrin IB, Motrin Infants', Motrin Junior Strength, Motrin Migraine Pain, PediaCare Children's Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, PediaCare Infants' Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, Samson-8
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