It’s never nice hearing your baby wheezing away and struggling to breathe, and chances are it could be a chest infection. Get familiar with the symptoms of a toddler chest infection so you know when it’s time to visit the doctor.
A chest infection in babies and toddlers – also known as a lower respiratory tract infection – is normally one of those things that looks and sounds much nastier than it actually is. The good news is that the majority of infections clear up quickly with simple home remedies and a generous dose of TLC, while the more persistent congestions can be treated effectively with prescribed medication.
Chest infections are often accompanied by bad coughs that can last a few days. If your toddler has a cough that causes him pain or leaves him breathless, take him to your GP.
What is a chest infection?
‘The ones that cause most problems are respiratory syncytial viruses and the Influenza viruses,’ says Dr Donald MacGregor, Consultant Paediatrician of the Royal Collage of Paediatrics and Child Health. ‘Children who are more likely to contract a chest infection are preterm infants or those born with severe heart or lung problems.’
The more severe chest infections are usually bacterial, spurred on by the original viral illness.
Symptoms to look out for
You can keep an eye out for certain cues that your baby might have a chest infection. The infection itself may last just five to seven days, but the symptoms can last much longer.
‘Coughing and fast breathing are the most common specific symptoms,’ says Dr MacGregor. ‘But infants can also have irregular breathing or pauses in breathing and fever is not always present.
'If your baby turns blue or has very irregular breathing that you should take him straight to the doctor.’
You may find that feeding your baby is difficult, as he has to suck, breathe and swallow all at the same time – which is tricky when he is finding it harder than normal to breathe.
‘In infants younger than three months old, chest infections leave them exhausted as they have to breathe through their nose,’ Dr MacGregor says. ‘Your baby may wheeze due to the narrowing or secretions in the lower airways.’
Always speak to your GP if you think your baby has a chest infection. Viral chest infections can be treated from home with the ‘symptomatic and supportive’ approach.
‘You can treat the fever with regular fluid intake and small regular feeds,’ suggests Dr MacGregor. ‘If the wheeze occurs then sometimes using an inhaler through a spacer can be advised by a doctor.’
In extreme cases where a baby requires hospital care, an oxygen and feeding tube might be required.
Bacterial chest infections such as pneumonia normally respond well to antibiotics, which your baby’s doctor will issue if necessary.
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