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Helping Your Child Breathe Easier

According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, the majority of children who are hospitalized are admitted with a respiratory tract illness. Such problems range from colds and flu to asthma, allergies, pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis, and cystic fibrosis. In terms of childhood disease, the respiratory system is the most critical.

Here are some tips from the AARC to help your child breathe easier:

  1. Drinking plenty of fluids will reduce respiratory discomfort for a child with the flu or a cold. Increased body temperature and rapid breathing often accompany such illness, and that leads to fluid loss, or dehydration. Dehydration tends to make respiratory secretions (mucus) thicker, drier, and, therefore, much more difficult to expel. Fluids will keep the secretions thinner and easier to cough up.
  2. Colds and flu cause the nasal membranes to swell, narrowing air passages and making breathing more difficult. This condition is part of the reason we tire so readily when we are sick - we have to breathe harder through smaller airways, and that takes greater energy. To keep energy levels up during bouts with colds and flu, make sure your child continues to get proper nourishment.
  3. Allergies are quite common in children. Some people are born more sensitive to certain substances than others; they react strongly to very small amounts of these substances. Exposure to such “allergens,” “antigens,” or “irritants” can cause the muscles of the respiratory system to contract, narrowing the airways. Breathing through these narrowed airways can produce a wheezing sound. Other forms the allergy may take are sneezing, a runny nose, and watery, itchy eyes. Respiratory care practitioners work under a physician's direction to provide medication and therapy that open narrowed airways and remove abnormal mucus. Air conditioners with special filters can cut down on the presence of some allergens. Some common irritants can be eliminated from the child's home environment altogether. These include dust, shag carpeting, fur, feathers, pets, and stuffed animals. Since stuffed toys can be filled with everything from crushed nuts to feathers or moldy fiber, it is best to check the contents label or to buy only hypoallergenic stuffed animals for the highly allergic child.
  4. Tobacco smoke from other family members can have a serious effect on the respiratory health of youngsters. One study shows that children up to two years old whose parents smoke suffer twice the rate of bronchitis and pneumonia as children of nonsmokers.
  5. Flu shots may help certain children avoid problems.

If any minor illness becomes prolonged or occurs often, talk to your doctor. Only a trained medical expert can recognize the importance of seemingly small irritations that may lead to bigger health problems.

When children suffer from colds, flu, or allergies, parents often suffer right along with them. These tips from the AARC can make both your children and you more comfortable.

Reviewed: May 26, 2005

© 2019 American Association for Respiratory Care