What causes some children to have more than the usual number of infections?
Sometimes it's easy to see the cause of an infection, such as being in day-care centers. Children in day-care centers give infections to each other. They drool and their noses drip. They touch each other and touch all the toys. This spreads infections. As adults we have far less contact with each other's germs, so we are less likely to catch so many infections.
Exposure to cigarette smoke (sometimes called "passive smoking") is another cause for runny noses and wheezing in young children. Because more women of childbearing age are smoking, passive smoking is a more common cause of respiratory infection in children. Passive smoking is now linked to infections and asthma in children.
Do specific medical conditions cause repeated infections in children?
Structural changes in the sinuses or the eustachian tubes (connecting tubes in each ear) are a common cause of repeated infections in children. The term "structural changes" refers to differences in the bony parts of the skull, the sinuses and the ears. These differences may be inherited. Some differences in body structure make it easier for that person to get infections because the normal drainage of the eustachian tube (in the ear) or sinuses (in the nose) is blocked. When the drainage is blocked, the number of bacteria grows. This leads to infection. In most children, as the head grows, drainage problems get better. If young children are having too many ear infections, they might need antibiotics or special ear tubes.
Allergy and asthma can also cause repeated sinusitis (stuffy or drippy nose) and wheezing. Allergy can cause inflammation inside the nose that lasts for a long time. Because of the inflammation, the normal drainage pathways of the nose and sinuses swell and get plugged up. Bacteria grow, causing an infection. Medicine is necessary to treat the cause of the infection, which is the allergy.
Coughing that goes along with mild viral infections may be a sign of asthma. Sometimes when we think children have pneumonia as a complication of a cold, they really have asthma. These children need asthma medicine in addition to other medicine for infection.
What causes children to have really serious repeated infections?
In some cases, the answer is chance alone. In rare cases, an otherwise healthy child will have 2 or 3 severe infections for no obvious reason. However, your doctor may want your child to have some simple screening tests to check if your child has an immune deficiency (a weakness in the immune system). This is the main cause of repeated severe infections.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff