Thursday, 06 January 2022

Respiratory Illness in Children

Health experts locally are urging parents and carers to be aware of the signs of respiratory illnesses in children with cases higher than usual for this time of year and further increases expected over the winter months.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common virus that causes coughs and colds in winter and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children under two. In the UK, the RSV season typically begins in the autumn – earlier than the adult flu season – and runs throughout the winter. However, this year we are now seeing this presenting in children much sooner.

Dr Anne Kerr, Emergency Department (ED) consultant, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said that whilst respiratory infections are common in children in autumn/winter, we are now seeing more children and babies with respiratory infections earlier on in the year, due to restrictions lifting.

"We’re now seeing more children and babies with respiratory infections coming through our doors at the emergency department, as restrictions have lifted and people are mixing again. Many new parents may not have experienced respiratory illness in their child until now which understandably, can cause them to worry."

"Most cases, however, will not be serious and often the child can be cared for at home with simple measures such as paracetamol, rest and plenty of fluids."

Common symptoms of bronchiolitis are runny nose, a rasping, dry cough, mild increase in temperature. You may also notice them feeding less and making more effort in their breathing.

Dr Kerr said most cases will resolve on their own within two to three weeks, but parents
should contact their GP or call NHS 111 if:

  • Their child struggles to breathe
  • Their child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three
    feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more
  • The child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above

Children under two months of age, those born prematurely and those with underlying health conditions, such as a heart condition, are a higher risk of severe bronchiolitis and parents should consider accessing health advice earlier.

Parents and carers are also advised to dial 999 for an ambulance if:

  • Your baby is having difficulty breathing.
  • Your baby's tongue or lips are blue.
  • There are long pauses in your baby's breathing.

Dr Nigel Taylor, clinical lead for respiratory conditions at NHS South Sefton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “If your child has a sore throat, cough or cold and you are concerned about them, contact NHS 111 by phone or online in the first instance or your GP can advise if needed.

“Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if you’re worried about your child, they’re not feeding properly, they have a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above, or they seem very tired or irritable.”

Dr Fiona Lemmens, GP and Chair of NHS Liverpool CCG said: “Respiratory illnesses, including coughs, colds and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are very common in young children. We see them every year, and for the majority of children, these illnesses will not be serious and can be managed at home with rest and plenty of fluids.

“However, for a small number of children under two, especially those born prematurely or with a heart condition, the  consequences from these common infections can be more serious – and that’s why we’re encouraging parents of young children to keep a close eye on any symptoms.

“It’s also really important that we all carry on with the good hygiene habits that we’ve become used to during the pandemic such as regular hand washing, in order to protect ourselves and those around us from these illnesses as well as we can.”

There are simple steps you can take to reduce the spread of all viruses:

  • Use tissues to catch coughs or sneezes, bin the used tissues as soon as possible
    and wash your hands with soap and warm water to kill the germs.
  • Children with flu or bronchiolitis symptoms should stay home and reduce contacts
    where possible.
  • Particularly avoid close contact with newborn babies, infants born prematurely
    (before 37 weeks), children under 2 born with heart or lung conditions, and those
    with weakened immune systems.

Find out more about the symptoms of bronchiolitis and what to do on the NHS website: and children's health in general here:

You can view a video of Dr Anne Kerr, ED consultant at Alder Hey Children’s NHS
Foundation Trust talking about RSV here: