Do you ever wonder why we get so many upper respiratory infections in the winter?
Winter is the time of year when we see a tremendous increase in the incidence of upper respiratory infections. The answer as to why these illnesses are more common in winter is not fully known.
However, we do know that they are spread largely by droplet (aerosol) infection from individuals with a high viral level in their nasal and throat secretions, by sneezing and coughing on anyone close at hand.
The most common of the more serious infections are as listed below.
Bronchiolitis: An infection of the upper respiratory tract, as well as the tiny bronchioles in the lungs, most often caused by a virus called RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). It is most severe in infants, often requiring hospitalization. It presents with a cold, but rapidly progresses to severe cough and difficulty breathing.
Croup: An infection, most often caused by a virus called Parainfluenza. Croup occurs most often in children between six months and four years. It may begin as an innocent “cold”, but can rapidly progress to a barking cough, hoarse voice and difficulty breathing with a ‘funny” sound on inspiration, called “stridor”.
It affects the area of the larynx and voice box. In adults, it is called “laryngitis”. Humidification and cool air help to reduce the symptoms, but often a steroid treatment is needed. There are other kinds of croup that are recurrent and probably allergic triggered.
Influenza: Every autumn and winter, we experience a “flu” epidemic to some degree. Unfortunately, each year the flu virus can mutate or change, thus requiring an updated vaccine with the anticipated strains in it.
Influenza is a respiratory infection, with symptoms of malaise or fatigue, muscle aches, weakness, severe cough, headache, and fever, often lasting 4-5 days. Infants are particularly vulnerable and may need hospitalized. We recommend all of our patients be immunized early in the season. The flu vaccine is very safe and usually very effective.
Common Cold: Of course, there are many viruses that cause an URI or “cold”. Symptoms can include colored nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion, postnasal drainage, sore throat, cough and fever. It usually peaks in a few days, but may take 10-12 days to completely resolve. Many different viruses can cause an URI, such as Rhinovirus, Adenovirus, etc.
In conclusion, most upper respiratory infections are merely a nuisance, causing us some misery and missed school or work. The good news is that these minor infections are a way of testing our immune system to prepare it for readiness for more serious infections. Antibiotics are contraindicated, unless there is a secondary infection, such as pneumonia or otitis media.
Dr. Ann Marie Rogers is Board Certified in Pediatrics and Board Certified in Neonatology by The American Board of Pediatrics. She is also Ohio's "Outstanding Pediatrician of the Year," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Ohio Chapter. She is the founding partner of Rainbow Pediatrics and was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from Nationwide Children's Hospital.
In addition, she received the AAP "Special Achievement Award" for legislative advocacy on such issues as mandatory child car seat restraints, insurance coverage for preventive health care and immunizations, and forty-eight hour maternity stays. She has served actively on the national AAP committees for Federal and State Government Affairs, and chaired the AAP Ohio Chapter Public Policy Committee for twenty years.