Types of Illness

Viral infection

A viral infection is an infection (illness) caused by a virus. 

Key facts:

  • There are many different viral infections that cause a cough
    • Most only make your child feel a little unwell and get better soon
    • Some make your child feel very unwell or unwell for a number of weeks
    • A few can make children so unwell they need to go to hospital (see viral chest infections & bronchiolitis sections below)

For which symptoms and signs to look for to help you know whether your child might need treatment, see the When to see the doctor page.

Chest infection

A chest infection is an infection in the lungs. 

Key facts:

  • Chest infections can be caused by a virus or a bacteria
  • It is very difficult to tell the difference between a bacterial and a viral chest infection (even for doctors)
  • Most chest infections (including bacterial infections) will get better on their own without treatment
  • A few chest infections will need treatment
    • If it is a severe bacterial chest infection, antibiotics might help
    • If it is a severe viral chest infection, antibiotics won’t help but children are sometimes helped by being given oxygen in hospital

For which symptoms and signs to look for to help you know whether your child might need treatment, see the When to see the doctor page.

More information

Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is a type of chest infection which is common in babies under 12 months and usually caused by a virus.

Key facts:

  • Almost all children who get bronchiolitis will get better without treatment
  • A few will need to go to hospital
    • There are no drugs that treat bronchiolitis but the hospital may give oxygen or fluids to help support the child while their immune system fights the illness

For which symptoms and signs to look for to help you know whether your child might need treatment, see the When to see the doctor page.

More information

Croup

Croup is a viral infection of the voice box which is common in children under 3 years.

Key facts:

  • Children usually have a characteristic ‘barking’ cough
  • Children may also have noisy breathing and a hoarse voice
  • Most children who get coup will get better without treatment
  • A few children may have breathing problems and need to go to hospital

For which symptoms and signs to look for to help you know whether your child might need treatment, see the When to see the doctor page.

More information

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils in the throat. It is usually a viral infection and occasionally a bacterial infection.

Key facts:

  • Almost all children who get tonsillitis will get better without treatment
  • Some children do not drink enough because it is painful
    • Treat the pain with child paracetamol / ibuprofen
    • Encourage your child to sip water often
  • A few children may need antibiotic treatment – see more information link below for information on when to see the doctor about tonsillitis

More information

Whooping cough

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the airways.

The whooping cough vaccination given to pregnant women and as part of the 5-in-1 vaccine given to children at 2, 3 and 4 months gives good protection against whooping cough but a few children will still catch the illness.

Key facts:

  • Illness starts with cold symptoms lasting 1-2 weeks, followed by a phase of very intense coughing
  • Coughing is sometimes accompanied by a whooping sound, but not always and rarely in children under 6 months
  • If whooping cough is diagnosed within the first 3 weeks , your GP may prescribe antibiotics – this will not help your child get better any quicker but will help prevent the infection spreading to other children

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Asthma

Asthma is a long term condition which affects the lungs.  It is a complex condition which is difficult to diagnose and needs carefully tailored treatment.  See the more information link below.

When children with asthma get a cough, most will get better on their own, but you need to monitor them a little more  closely.  Usually you should use more of your child’s preventer and reliever treatments when your child has a bad cough, but follow his or her asthma management plan (and ask for one from your practice asthma nurse if you don’t have one!).

 More information

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