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Common Childhood Infections

Causes of infections

Most infections in children are caused by viruses, but they can also be caused by bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Not all bacteria are harmful, but they become harmful when they move to areas of the body that they do not belong in. Most viral diseases are not treated with an antibiotic. Usually, the body gets rid of the viruses on its own. The following are signs of infection in an infant under 2 months of age. Call your pediatrician right away if your child develops any of these symptoms:

  • Poor feeding
  • Poor color
  • Listlessness
  • Weak cry
  • Rectal temperature of at least 100˚F
  • Breathing problems
  • Unusual fussiness
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Vomiting or diarrhea


Symptoms of the common cold include sneezing, watery eyes, a cough, and a stuffy, runny nose. A child with a cold will often be cranky and have a mild fever and a headache. A cold usually lasts about a week. Contact your pediatrician if the fever continues or goes up during the week, symptoms gets worse after a week, or your child has breathing problems or ear pain. Symptoms of the common cold can be relieved with:

  • A cool-mist vaporizer
  • Acetaminophen to bring down a fever
  • Decongestants
  • Lots of fluids

Ear infection

Occasionally, children with colds will develop an earache. Fussiness, fever, or fluid draining from your child’s ear may mean your child has an ear infection. If an ear infection is present, your pediatrician may prescribe an antibiotic for your child. Be sure to give your child the full dose of the antibiotic for the whole time it is prescribed. This is important even if symptoms go away within a few days. You can give acetaminophen to ease any ear pain, but do not give aspirin. Even after the pain and fever have gone, fluid can still remain. This can lead to more infections or future hearing problems.


When your child has a cold, the sinuses around his nose often get stuffy and swollen. Sometimes the mucus in the sinuses may get infected with bacteria. When this happens, your child has a sinus infection. Sinusitis usually develops after your child has had a cold for at least 10 days. Signs of sinusitis are: persistent nasal discharge, fever, coughs during day and night, tenderness in the face, and headaches. An antibiotic will destroy the bacteria that cause sinusitis.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection. Strep usually develops in children over 3 years of age. Signs of strep include a sore throat, fever, and swollen glands in the neck. If your child has a positive test for strep throat, your pediatrician will prescribe an antibiotic. After 24 to 36 hours of antibiotic treatment, your child is no longer contagious and should start to feel better. Remember to have your child finish all the medicine. If you stop treatment too early, the infection may come back or cause other problems. If not treated, strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever. This can cause damage to the heart and swelling of the joints. Untreated strep throat can also lead to kidney disease and a number of other health problems.


Your child may go to bed with a runny nose and mild cough, but wake up during the night with a cough that sounds like a seal’s bark. Croup is usually caused by a viral infection in and around the voice box. Your child’s breathing may become noisy and labored, a condition called stridor. Your child may or may not have a fever. A cool-mist vaporizer may help. If you do not have one, turn on the hot water in your shower or bathtub and let the bathroom fill up with steam for a few minutes. You could also take your child for a walk in the cool night air. This may help your child to breathe better. If your child has a sever case of croup, your pediatrician may recommend a hospital stay. To reduce the swelling around the voice box, doctors may give your child a cortisone medication or a medication to inhale.


Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs. The symptoms vary based on the cause and severity of the illness. Viruses cause most pneumonia in children. A child may have a cough, mild fever, and decreased appetite and energy. Viral pneumonias are often treated with acetaminophen for fever and are sometimes treated with bronchodilators (if there is wheezing). Bacterial pneumonias tend to have more severe symptoms, and they respond best to therapy with antibiotics, fluids, and humid air.  Pneumonia often occurs a few days after the start of an upper respiratory tract infection. Most cases of pneumonia can be safely treated at home. If the symptoms are severe or your child is under 6 months of age, however, he/she may need to go to the hospital for treatment.

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye)

Pinkeye is an infection that causes painful or itchy, red eyes. To treat pinkeye, your pediatrician may prescribe warm compresses and antibiotic drops or ointment. Let your pediatrician know if your child has eye irritation with a high fever, sluggishness or more severe swelling and redness around the eye. These could be signs of a more serious infection. Not all pinkeye infections are contagious. Your pediatrician can let you know whether your child should stay out of school or the child care center until the infection clears.


A tender, local swelling and redness on your child’s eyelid are usually signs of a sty. This is an infection in a gland of the eyelid. To treat a sty, apply warm compresses often. Let your pediatrician know if this does not work. He/she may then prescribe an antibiotic ointment or refer your child to an eye doctor who can drain the sty surgically. Sties are not very contagious.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea are the reasons many parents call the pediatrician. These illnesses are usually caused by viruses that infect the intestine. They usually last only about a day or two, but in some cases they can last up to a week. You can give your child small sips of clear fluids, later followed by easy to digest foods. Diarrhea is frequent, loose, watery stools. You may need to stop feeding your child solid foods and milk for 12 to 24 hours and instead give an oral electrolyte solution to prevent dehydration, which can be bought at your local drugstore. Mild vomiting and diarrhea rarely cause dehydration. However, if your child is dehydrated, he/she may:

  • seem tired or have less energy
  • produce less urine or tears
  • have a dry mouth
  • have sunken eyes

If dehydration occurs, your child may need to have an intravenous (IV) tube inserted to receive fluids through her veins. Call your pediatrician early if your child has vomiting or diarrhea that will not go away.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

A UTI occurs in the kidney or bladder and can cause fever, painful/frequent urination, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Treatment of UTIs consists of taking an antibiotic for about 10 days. Even though your child shows signs of improvement within 1 or 2 days of starting the antibiotic, he must still finish the entire prescription. X-rays and other tests are often needed to help determine the causes of the UTI.

Impetigo (skin infection)

Your child may have a skin infection called impetigo. It is when a scratch turns into a yellow, oozing, crusty sore surrounded by redness. Impetigo can spread on the skin quickly. It can also spread to other people if they touch the infected skin lesions. This infection is most common in warm weather. An antibiotic, taken by mouth or in ointment form, is used to treat impetigo. Call your pediatrician if symptoms develop or become worse.



Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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