Childhood Respiratory Diseases

Childhood Respiratory System Conditions Image

While some of the respiratory conditions that affect children are chronic, congenital problems that require lifelong treatment (such as asthma), others result from infection by some virus or bacteria. These later respiratory infections tend to be acute conditions that disappear with the proper treatment.

Because children’s lungs and airways are smaller and more vulnerable, kids are especially susceptible to contracting infections that cause respiratory diseases. However, the advancements of modern medicine have produced a number of preventative vaccines and treatment options that make most of these conditions highly manageable and, therefore, not life threatening.

In most cases, respiratory diseases cause children to suffer from symptoms that resemble the common cold, including:

  • chest pains
  • coughing
  • fever
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • shortness of breath
  • sneezing
  • stidor (a high-pitched squeaking noise made when the patient breathes).

The resulting treatment will depend not only on the precise respiratory condition affecting the child but also on the whether or not a bacterial or viral infection has caused the condition. While antibiotics are effective treatments for conditions that result from bacterial infections, treatments for respiratory diseases that stem from viral infections will revolve around minimizing the symptoms.

As a result, viral-based conditions will require proper hydration, anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling and traditional cold or cough medicine to ease the symptoms.

In this section, we will highlight some of the more common respiratory diseases that affect children. Our articles describe the causes, symptoms and treatments options associated with each respiratory condition.


Croup is a respiratory condition marked by an inflammation of the vocal cords. While the parainfluenza virus typically causes croup in children, bacterial infections and inhaled toxins can also give rise to croup. Along with the symptoms usually associated with the common cold, those suffering from croup will make squeaking noises when breathing, a symptom known as stridor.

As most cases of croup are viral-based, treatment attempts to reduce the child’s symptoms and facilitate breathing until the body can successfully fight off the virus. Along with resting and taking acetaminophen to reduce vocal cord swelling, those suffering from croup should try to breathe cold or humidified air.

If you don’t have a humidifier at home, don’t run out and buy one. You can easily construct one at home by turning on the hot water in your shower and closing the bathroom door. Have your child sit in the misty room for about 10 minutes to clear up his airways. When these home remedies fail, consult your doctor, as your child has a more serious case of croup.

Whooping Cough

Referred to as pertussis in the medical community, whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory condition that tends to affect children under 6 months old and teens between 11 and 18 years old (The former because they haven’t yet been immunized for it; the latter because the effects of immunizations have faded).

Like many of the other respiratory conditions, whooping cough symptoms are sometimes indistinguishable from those of the common cold. However, pertussis has the unique symptom of coughing spells, bouts of coughing that last for up to one minute. During these spells, children’s faces may turn red or even purple. Afterward, the strain of prolonged coughing can cause the child to vomit.

While antibiotics and sufficient hydration are suitable treatments for older children with pertussis, hospitalization may be necessary for infants suffering from whopping cough.


KidsHealth (n.d.). Whooping Cough (pertussis). Retrieved September 18, 2007 from the KidsHealth Web site:

Mayo Clinic (updated October 4, 2006). Croup. Retrieved September 17, 2007 from the Mayo Clinic Web site: