Children's Hospital Colorado

FAQ About Respiratory Infections

As one of the largest pediatric ear, nose and throat teams in the U.S., we offer care in six convenient locations for children in Colorado and beyond.

The start of the school season means cold weather is coming soon. This time of year traditionally marks the beginning of respiratory-related sicknesses, such as sinus, ear and throat infections. Of course, this year is a little different.

The pandemic has altered the timing of when we usually see respiratory infections and the cycle of respiratory infections has already begun. We’ve written about how you can tell the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and symptoms of respiratory infections. It’s important to be alert and identify these illnesses early as your children return to school. To find out how to do this, we asked our expert pediatric otolaryngologists from the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about respiratory season

Will ear, nose and throat diseases return this fall and winter?

Yes. As schools resume regular classes and mask wearing and social distancing diminish, general viral infections that are not COVID-19 will increase. In fact, admissions due to complications from these viral infections at Children’s Hospital Colorado have increased since the spring. We expect an increase of ear, nose and throat infectious diseases that were almost non-existent during the last respiratory season.

Will COVID-19 still be a factor this winter?

COVID-19 will still be a real concern until children are eligible for vaccination. The more people we vaccinate, the lower the rate of COVID-19 infection will be in the overall population.

What ear, nose and throat disease should I look for?

Common infections such as ear infections (otitis media), sinus infections (sinusitis) and throat infections (strep throat and sore throat from a viral infection) will return. Although these infections are usually mild to moderate, in some cases they can become serious.

Ear infections

What is an ear infection and when do ear infections happen?

An ear infection generally refers to a middle-ear infection, also known as otitis media. They can occur throughout the year but are most common during the respiratory season starting in October. This year, we are seeing signs that the respiratory season has already begun, starting in late summer.

How do I identify an ear infection

Your child may complain of ear pain, have a fever, or act grumpy or irritable. Children 1 to 5 are most at risk for ear infections.

When should I bring my child in for care?

Many times, symptoms like pain, fever and irritability can be relieved with Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen). If the frequency of these symptoms exceeds three times within 3 months, it’s time to make an appointment by calling the ENT department at 720-777-8501.

Sinus infections

What is a sinus infection?

A sinus infection starts from a respiratory viral illness. Many times, your child’s body will fight the virus off. But if the virus lasts more than a week, the sinuses may become infected. Children 1 to 8 are at risk for sinus infections.

How can I tell if my child has a sinus infection?

Sinus infections look similar to symptoms of the common cold, but last longer. Your child may have symptoms such as congestion, nasal discharge, a headache and sinus pain.

Are there different types of sinus infections?

Sinus infections are generally grouped into four categories:

  • Acute – lasting up to 4 weeks
  • Subacute – lasting less than 3 months
  • Chronic – lasting longer than 3 months
  • Recurrent – having more than 4 infections in the span of 3 months

When should I bring my child in for care?

If the symptoms persist longer than a common cold (more than 14 days) and are not relieved by Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen), it’s time to make an appointment by calling the ENT department at 720-777-8501.

Throat Infections

What is a throat infection?

There are two common types of throat infections. Non-streptococcal pharyngitis is caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold. Streptococcal pharyngitis, also known as strep throat, is caused by group a beta-hemolytic streptococcus bacteria. Children 2 and older are most at risk of throat infection.

What are the symptoms of a throat infection?

A sore throat is the first sign. This can be accompanied by a fever but isn’t always. Children with strep throat may also have gastrointestinal symptoms such as tummy ache.

When should I bring my child in for care?

When the bouts of sore throat are too frequent (greater than four per year) or too severe (missing too many days of school), it’s time to make an appointment by calling the ENT department at 720-777-8501. Identifying whether a sore throat is caused by a virus or bacteria is the first step toward treatment.

Are there any other infections I should look for this respiratory season?

One thing we are noticing is the higher level of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases this year.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus is a respiratory virus that causes mild, cold-like symptoms in most kids. Children with RSV usually recover in a week or two, but the virus can be serious, especially for infants. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia (infection of the lungs) in children younger than 1 in the United States. Older children and adults can also contract RSV.

What are the symptoms of RSV?

The symptoms of RSV are similar to the symptoms of a common cold – your child may have a runny nose, cough, fever and sometimes wheezing.

When should I bring my child in for care?

Parents might not know their child has RSV, because the illness usually starts as a viral cold. This can sometimes progress to pneumonia, requiring hospitalization. If your child has viral cold symptoms and they continue to worsen, it’s time to speak with a pulmonary expert at The Breathing Institute by calling 720-777-6181.