If you're the parent of young children, the phrase "Winter is coming!" is almost as dreaded as it is on the television show Game of Thrones. True, you don't have to worry about sudden attacks by zombie armies, but you do have to be concerned about your infants and young kids being exposed to more than the usual number of health risks. Not all of these risks will require a visit to your normal Pediatrician or to a Pediatric Urgent Care center, but it's good to be aware that there is a higher likelihood of respiratory illness during the Winter than at other times of the year.
Exposure to cold has long been associated with increased incidence and severity of respiratory infections. Recent research suggests that one of the reasons is that as internal body temperature falls after exposure to cold air, so too does the immune system's ability to fight of the viruses that cause the common cold and other more severe respiratory infections.
Kids are more at risk from viral infections in winter than adults
Most adults in the US get two to three colds every year, while kids tend to get six to ten. If your child is under the age of six, the odds of them catching at least one cold this Winter are 99%.
Children are most likely to have colds and other respiratory illnesses during the fall and winter, starting in late August or early September until March or April. The increased incidence of viral infections during this "cold season" may be attributed to their immature immune systems, and to the fact that more children are indoors because of the weather, and thus close to each other and other family members or school mates. In addition, the retroviruses that cause colds tend to thrive in low humidity, which makes nasal passages drier and more vulnerable to infection.
Colds are not the only infections that might require urgent care for children
Other common winter respiratory infections in children include:
- RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) / Bronchiolitis – this common viral infection is most frequently seen in children less than 12 months old. Symptoms include low-grade fever, nasal congestion, cough, and wheezing. Unlike the common cold, which tends to go away after 3 to 5 days, symptoms may seem to increase to include difficulty breathing and dehydration. Cases of RSV can necessitate a visit to your local Pediatric Urgent Care Clinic.
- Influenza – more commonly referred to as "the flu," this condition tends to develop more quickly than a cold, producing more severe symptoms such as high fever, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, and pains. If your child experiences extremely high fevers or if any of these symptoms become concerning, it can be a good idea to visit your pediatrician or, after hours, a kids' after hours clinic.
- Croup – this condition, characterized by loud coughing often described as "barking like a seal," often comes on suddenly in the middle of the night, and thus can be a candidate for seeking after hours care for children. The child may also be making a high-pitched wheezing noise while breathing.
- Pneumonia – unlike the other common Winter illnesses discussed so far, pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection, not a virus. It may start as a cold or flu, but if the sickness continues for some time and is accompanied by a high fever, a worsening cough, and/or difficulty breathing, it can be worth a visit to your Pediatrician or Pediatric Urgent Care center to make sure there is not a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
When to call the doctor or visit an Urgent Care clinic:
- If a child has difficulty breathing through a blocked nose, is vomiting or not eating, or has a temperature over 100.4 degrees.
- In babies and children of any ages, if their symptoms worsen suddenly, especially if they are breathing rapidly or look as if they are working hard to breathe, or if the coughing becomes bad, or if the child is choking or vomiting.
- If the child shows any indication of a middle ear infection, which can often result from a cold or the flu. Symptoms include earache, crankiness, high fever, vomiting, or pus draining from the ear.
- If the child wakes up in the morning or the middle of the night with one or both eyes stuck shut with dried yellow pus, this is a sign of an eye infection that should be treated.
- If discharges from the nose last longer than 10 or 14 days.
Also, if these or any other concerns happen on weekends or in the middle of the night, please remember that one of the main benefits of a Pediatric Urgent Care center is that we're there for you if you need us, whenever you need us.
Mourtzoukou EG, Falagas ME. "Exposure to cold and respiratory tract infections." Int J Tuberc Lung Dis 2007 Sep; 11(9) 938-943.
WebMD. "Why Are Colds More Likely in Winter?" https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20150106/researchers-probe-why-colds-are-more-likely-in-winter#1. Accessed November 1, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection – People at High Risk for Severe RSV Infection – RSV in Infants and Young Children." https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/high-risk/infants-young-children.html. Accessed November 1, 2017.
Stanford Children's Health. "Upper Respiratory Infection (URI or Common Cold." http://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=upper-respiratory-infection-uri-or-common-cold-90-P02966. Accessed November 1, 2017.
Aboutkidshealth.ca. "Respiratory infections in infants: RSV".
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/News/NewsAndFeatures/Pages/Respiratory-infections-in-infants-RSV.aspx. Accessed November 1, 2017.
US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes for Health. "Colds in children." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722603/. Pediatric Child Health, 2005 Oct; 10(8) 493.405.
ChildrensMD.org. "Winter's Most Dreaded: Identify and avoid these six common childhood illnesses." https://childrensmd.org/browse-by-age-group/newborn-infants/winters-dreaded-identify-avoid-six-common-childhood-illnesses/. Accessed November 1, 2017.