Don’t worry. It is just a cold…

My 20 month old son Harry seems to be constantly unwell with coughs and colds. Should I be concerned?

Winter is upon us again and with the cold comes frequent coughs and runny noses! It might feel like your son is permanently ill. It is important to note that in the first few years of life it is normal for a young child to have an average of 8 infections per year. Each of these periods of illness can last 7-10 days which means a toddler can be unwell for a considerable portion of the year.

From birth a baby is being exposed to new viruses and bacteria all the time and has to build up its own immunity. In the 1st 6 months of a baby’s life, some protection is provided by maternal antibodies transferred across the placenta during pregnancy. Your child’s own antibody stores can take years to reach adult levels. Breastfeeding will help protect against chest, ear and gut infections. Having all the normal vaccinations will again help prevent severe forms of chest and ear infections from occurring.

Certain factors increase the number of infections and illnesses: having older siblings at school; attending nursery (at least doubles the risk); the larger the family size, the greater the number of infections. Exposure to passive smoking not only increases the number but also the severity of chest and ear infections. Babies born prematurely will also be at increased risk of infections.

Often when young kids are unwell with a cold (upper respiratory tract infection) they can have a decreased appetite and interrupted sleep. There is probably little need for concern regarding this. However over time if he has lost weight or is failing to thrive, has a chronic fever(5 or more days), has recurrent serious infections (e.g. pneumonia), does not respond to appropriate treatment or his illnesses are related to travel abroad , then it is advised he be reviewed by a paediatrician. It is also worthwhile to consider whether these ‘colds’ could potentially be early signs of asthma.

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