What are Recurrent Respiratory Infections?
Respiratory infection is a disease of the respiratory tract, the airway passage that begins at the nose, passes through the throat and ends in the lungs. Respiratory tract infections are mainly caused by viruses and occasionally bacteria.
Common conditions caused by respiratory infections include:
- Cold: Inflammation of mucous membranes of the nose and throat
- Sinusitis: Inflammation of the sinuses
- Ear infections
- Pharyngitis: Inflammation of the pharynx (throat)
- Laryngitis: Inflammation of the larynx (voice box)
- Bronchitis: Inflammation of the air passages below the throat leading up to the lungs
- Pneumonia: Inflammation of the lungs
Children usually get upper respiratory tract infections which affect the nose, throat, sinuses and ears, but they can also get lower respiratory tract infections causing conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
If your child has greater than 6 to 8 respiratory infections a year, the condition is described as recurrent. Recurrent respiratory infections are common in children as their immune system is still developing. An underlying medical condition or structural abnormality may also increase the risk of infections.
Causes of Recurrent Respiratory Infections
Recurrent respiratory infections in your child could be attributed to several factors such as:
- Increased exposure to infectious agents
- An underdeveloped immune system
- Missed vaccination
- Early socialising, starting school
- Air pollution, passive smoking
- Home dampness
- Large family size, overcrowding
- Poor socio-economic conditions
- Physical stress
Signs and Symptoms of Recurrent Respiratory Infections
Symptoms of recurrent respiratory infections are similar to those seen in regular respiratory infections and may include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Body aches
Children with recurrent respiratory infections usually have a chronic cough.
What If Recurrent Respiratory Infections are Left Untreated?
Untreated recurrent respiratory infections can lead to:
- Dysfunction of the immune system increasing the rate of recurrent infections and bacterial infection.
- Worsening cough
- Increased risk of developing asthma
- Wheezing attacks
- Antibiotic resistance if antibiotics are frequently administered
Most upper respiratory infections resolve on their own. Recurrent lower respiratory tract infections if not adequately evaluated and treated may lead to progressive and irreversible damage of your child’s lungs and even death due to respiratory arrest
Diagnosing Recurrent Respiratory Infections
Your child’s presenting symptoms and medical history are assessed. A physical examination is performed during which your doctor will examine your child’s ears, nose and throat. Respiratory rate and lung function are evaluated.
Other diagnostic tests performed include:
- Chest X-ray or CT scan
- Swab test (from nose or mouth)
- Sputum (material coughed up from the lungs) test
- Blood cell count
Treatment of Recurrent Respiratory Infections
If the infection is caused by a virus, your child will be prescribed medications as well as other measures to ease the symptoms. Antibiotics are recommended only if bacterial infection is suspected or in cases of severe viral infections.
To manage recurrent respiratory infections your doctor will stress the need for preventive measures. For infants, breastfeeding is recommended to promote immunity. Making environmental changes such as reducing exposure to smoke, pollutants and infective agents can significantly improve your child’s condition.
Alternatively, your child may also be treated with immunomodulating therapy. This method, where medications known as immunomodulators are used, works by activating and normalising your child’s immune system.
Immunomodulators are usually administered orally, subcutaneously or intranasally in that order. The therapy reduces the need for medications or antibiotics and ensures shorter duration of recurrent episodes. Prior to treating your child, your doctor will discuss the details of each available immunomodulator and choose an appropriate one for the best outcome.