Respiratory illnesses in kids on rise: Common causes and preventive measures | Health

China’s mysterious pneumonia has led to surge in hospitalisation cases across the country with children experiencing fever and lung damage, but without the classic symptoms of pneumonia such as breathlessness, coughing among others. Close on the heels of this, a similar outbreak is now being reported in Ohio, US where a large number of children are being hospitalised with mysterious pneumonia. (Also read | What is White Lung Syndrome? Mysterious pneumonia fast striking children)

The spread of viruses like RSV and influenza can lead to respiratory infections, especially in settings like schools or daycare centers where children gather closely. (Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times photo)

Ohio officials believe it isn’t a novel respiratory ailment and are looking into the cause of the spike in infections. Experts feel this could be a result of multiple common viruses striking at the same time.

A rise in respiratory illnesses has been observed in children in the recent days and experts say that several factors from allergens, lifestyle changes to spread of viruses like RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) and influenza could be behind the surge.

“Several factors contribute to the rising prevalence of respiratory diseases in children. Environmental factors like air pollution, exposure to tobacco smoke, and indoor allergens can increase the risk of respiratory illnesses. Lifestyle changes, such as decreased physical activity and increased screen time, might also weaken children’s immune systems. Moreover, the spread of viruses like RSV and influenza can lead to respiratory infections, especially in settings like schools or daycare centers where children gather closely. Changes in climate patterns may also play a role in altering the prevalence and spread of respiratory illnesses,” says Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, Director & HOD, Pulmonology, Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad.

Dr Satish, Consultant Pulmonology, CARE Hospitals, Hitech City, Hyderabad shares common symptoms of respiratory diseases in children.

Common signs

  • Coughing: Persistent or severe coughing is a common symptom.
  • Wheezing: Audible whistling sounds during breathing.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty in breathing or rapid breaths.
  • Chest Discomfort: Children may experience chest tightness or pain.
  • Common cold, congestion, sneezing and low grade fever

General symptoms

  • Fever: Elevated body temperature is often a sign of infection.
  • Fatigue: Increased tiredness or lack of energy.
  • Loss of Appetite: Diminished interest in food.
  • Irritability: Children may become more irritable due to discomfort.

Reasons for increase in respiratory diseases in children

Dr Satish says respiratory illness could affect children due to viral infections, air pollution, sedentary lifestyle among other factors.

1. Environmental Factors

  • Air Pollution: Elevated levels of air pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone, can adversely affect respiratory health in children.
  • Indoor Pollution: Insufficient ventilation, exposure to tobacco smoke, and the presence of allergens like mold indoors contribute to respiratory issues.

2. Infections

  • Viral Infections: Respiratory viruses like RSV, influenza, and rhinovirus are major contributors to respiratory illnesses in children.

3. Lifestyle Changes

  • Reduced physical activity: Sedentary lifestyles may compromise respiratory function in children.
  • Dietary habits: Poor nutrition can weaken the immune system, making children more susceptible to respiratory infections.

4. Immune system development

  • Immaturity of the Immune System: The immune system in children, especially in infants and toddlers, is still developing, rendering them more vulnerable to infections.

Common respiratory diseases in children

Dr Satish also sheds light on the common respiratory diseases that parents must be aware of to safeguard their children’s health.

1. Asthma

  • Symptoms: Asthma manifests as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
  • Prevention: Identification and avoidance of triggers, managing allergies, and maintaining a clean living environment are crucial.

2. Bronchiolitis

  • Symptoms: Cough, wheezing, and difficulty breathing are typical signs.
  • Prevention: Practices such as frequent handwashing, avoiding exposure to sick individuals, and promoting breastfeeding can help prevent bronchiolitis.

3. Pneumonia

  • Symptoms: Fever, cough, rapid breathing, and chest pain are indicative of pneumonia.
  • Prevention: Vaccination, adherence to good hygiene practices, and ensuring adequate nutrition contribute to pneumonia prevention.

4. Croup

  • Symptoms: Characterized by a barking cough and stridor (a high-pitched sound during inhalation).
  • Prevention: Consistent handwashing and minimizing exposure to individuals with respiratory infections are key preventive measures.

How to prevent respiratory infections in children

1. Vaccination

  • Ensuring that children receive recommended vaccines, including those for influenza and pneumonia, is crucial for preventing respiratory infections.

2. Hygiene practices

  • Regular handwashing, especially during cold and flu seasons, reduces the risk of transmitting viruses.

3. Avoiding smoke exposure

  • Shielding children from secondhand smoke is imperative, as it can exacerbate respiratory issues and compromise overall health.

4. Healthy lifestyle

  • Promoting a balanced diet, adequate hydration, and regular physical activity supports optimal immune function and overall health.

5. Environmental Awareness

  • Minimizing exposure to air pollutants and maintaining good indoor air quality through proper ventilation and cleanliness is essential.

Preventing respiratory diseases in children involves several measures

Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha shares tips to prevent pneumonia and other respiratory issues in children amid spike in infections.

1. Vaccinations: Ensure that children receive recommended vaccinations, including flu shots, pneumococcal vaccines, and any future vaccines developed for respiratory viruses like RSV.

2. Hygiene: Encourage regular handwashing, especially before meals and after coughing or sneezing. Teach children proper respiratory etiquette, like covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

3. Reduce exposure: Minimize exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, and indoor allergens like dust mites or pet dander.

4. Healthy lifestyle: Promote a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep to strengthen the immune system.

5. Avoid close contact: Encourage avoiding close contact with sick individuals, especially during peak seasons for respiratory illnesses.

6. Clean environment: Keep living spaces clean and well-ventilated to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria.

7. Stay informed: Stay updated with health advisories and guidelines from healthcare professionals or public health authorities for specific preventive measures against prevalent respiratory illnesses.

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