Upper Respiratory Infection (Pediatric)

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    Upper Respiratory Infection, Pediatric

    Upper Respiratory Infection, Pediatric

    An upper respiratory infection (URI) is a common infection of the nose, throat, and upper air passages that lead to the lungs. It is caused by a virus. The most common type of URI is the common cold.

    URIs usually get better on their own, without medical treatment. URIs in children may last longer than they do in adults.

    What are the causes?

    A URI is caused by a virus. Your child may catch a virus by:
    • Breathing in droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
    • Touching something that has been exposed to the virus (is contaminated) and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

    What increases the risk?

    Your child is more likely to get a URI if:
    • Your child is young.
    • Your child has close contact with others, such as at school or daycare.
    • Your child is exposed to tobacco smoke.
    • Your child has:
      • A weakened disease-fighting system (immune system).
      • Certain allergic disorders.
    • Your child is experiencing a lot of stress.
    • Your child is doing heavy physical training.

    What are the signs or symptoms?

    If your child has a URI, he or she may have some of the following symptoms:
    • Runny or stuffy (congested) nose or sneezing.
    • Cough or sore throat.
    • Ear pain.
    • Fever.
    • Headache.
    • Tiredness and decreased physical activity.
    • Poor appetite.
    • Changes in sleep pattern or fussy behavior.

    How is this diagnosed?

    This condition may be diagnosed based on your child's medical history and symptoms and a physical exam. Your child's health care provider may use a swab to take a mucus sample from the nose (nasal swab). This sample can be tested to determine what virus is causing the illness.

    How is this treated?

    URIs usually get better on their own within 7–10 days. Medicines or antibiotics cannot cure URIs, but your child's health care provider may recommend over-the-counter cold medicines to help relieve symptoms if your child is 6 years of age or older.

    Follow these instructions at home:


    • Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child's health care provider.
    • Do not give cold medicines to a child who is younger than 6 years old, unless his or her health care provider approves.
    • Talk with your child's health care provider:
      • Before you give your child any new medicines.
      • Before you try any home remedies such as herbal treatments.
    • Do not give your child aspirin because of the association with Reye's syndrome.

    Relieving symptoms

    • Use over-the-counter or homemade saline nasal drops, which are made of salt and water, to help relieve congestion. Put 1 drop in each nostril as often as needed.
      • Do not use nasal drops that contain medicines unless your child's health care provider tells you to use them.
      • To make saline nasal drops, completely dissolve ½–1 tsp (3–6 g) of salt in 1 cup (237 mL) of warm water.
    • If your child is 1 year or older, giving 1 tsp (5 mL) of honey before bed may improve symptoms and help relieve coughing at night. Make sure your child brushes his or her teeth after you give honey.
    • Use a cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air. This can help your child breathe more easily.


    • Have your child rest as much as possible.
    • If your child has a fever, keep him or her home from daycare or school until the fever is gone.

    General instructions

    A comparison of three sample cups showing dark yellow, yellow, and pale yellow urine.
    • Have your child drink enough fluids to keep his or her urine pale yellow.
    • If needed, clean your child's nose gently with a moist, soft cloth. Before cleaning, put a few drops of saline solution around the nose to wet the areas.
    • Keep your child away from secondhand smoke.
    • Make sure your child gets all recommended immunizations, including the yearly (annual) flu vaccine.
    • Keep all follow-up visits. This is important.

    How to prevent the spread of infection to others

    Washing hands with soap and water.

    A child holding a cloth over the mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing.

    URIs can be passed from person to person (are contagious). To prevent the infection from spreading:
    • Have your child wash his or her hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer. You and other caregivers should also wash your hands often.
    • Encourage your child to not touch his or her mouth, face, eyes, or nose.
    • Teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or his or her sleeve or elbow instead of into a hand or into the air.

    Contact your child's health care provider if:

    • Your child has a fever, earache, or sore throat. If your child is pulling on the ear, it may be a sign of an earache.
    • Your child's eyes are red and have a yellow discharge.
    • The skin under your child's nose becomes painful and crusted or scabbed over.

    Get help right away if:

    • Your child who is younger than 3 months has a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
    • Your child has trouble breathing.
    • Your child's skin or fingernails look gray or blue.
    • Your child has signs of dehydration, such as:
      • Unusual sleepiness.
      • Dry mouth.
      • Being very thirsty.
      • Little or no urination.
      • Wrinkled skin.
      • Dizziness.
      • No tears.
      • A sunken soft spot on the top of the head.

    These symptoms may be an emergency. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away. Get help right away. Call 911.


    • An upper respiratory infection (URI) is a common infection of the nose, throat, and upper air passages that lead to the lungs.
    • A URI is caused by a virus.
    • Medicines and antibiotics cannot cure URIs. Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child's health care provider.
    • Use over-the-counter or homemade saline nasal drops as needed to help relieve stuffiness (congestion).

    This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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