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Kids' Health Concerns Ease with Age

Your child is coughing and has a fever—again. You begin to worry: Didn't they just get over a cold?

When children are young, it's normal for them to have a variety of childhood illnesses and problems. Most go away as the child gets older. Here are some common health hurdles and advice when you can expect your child's condition to improve.

Frequent colds

Young children tend to get  six to eight colds per year. The reason: Kids come into the world with no immunity to the 200 or so rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. Immunity develops only after infection.

Ear infections

Why do infants and toddlers get ear infections more frequently? Blame it on the eustachian tube, a tiny passage between the middle ear and the back of the nose (nasopharynx). It is supposed to drain and ventilate the middle ear. When an adult stands, the eustachian tube is angled upward from the throat to the ear. This allows gravity to pull fluid downward toward the throat and discourages fluids in the throat from moving upward toward the middle ear. When a child stands, the eustachian tube is shorter, more narrow, and almost horizontal (flat). Fluid doesn't drain with the aid of gravity. If a child has a cold, there is swelling of the Eustachian tube, and drainage is decreased even more, which can cause increased ear infections. Expect improvement when the eustachian tube is fully developed by age 6.

Tonsillitis

The tonsils, two symmetrical masses of lymph tissue in the back of the throat, are part of the immune system and work to combat infections in young children. Unfortunately, they frequently become infected themselves. Streptococcal infections are the most common bacterial infection of the tonsils, and are commonly called strep throat. These bacteria, however, make up 15 to 30 percent of all cases of tonsillitis or sore throats; most cases are caused by viruses.

Strep throat responds well and quickly to antibiotics. Viral tonsillitis or sore throat (pharyngitis) does not respond to antibiotics and must run its course.

Removal of the tonsils (tonsillectomy) is not recommended as frequently as in years past, but doctors may still recommend it if tonsillitis has been a recurring problem for several years. It is also recommended if the tonsils are so large that they interfere with breathing, particularly while sleeping.

As your child ages, the tonsils usually begin to shrink, their function as disease fighters declines, and infections become less frequent.

Bed-wetting

Bed-wetting (also called enuresis) is common. It is frustrating for both parent and child and can lead to a loss of self-esteem. It may affect social interactions, especially when the child reaches the age where sleepovers are common. Fortunately, many commercial products are available to help with this problem. Relatively effective medications are available by prescription for cases that do not respond to a child’s increasing age. It is very important to have your child evaluated by a pediatrician if bed-wetting occurs on a regular basis.

These are possible causes for bed-wetting:

  • Genetics. Bed-wetting can run in families.

  • Deep sleep. Some children have difficulty waking up to use the bathroom.

  • Developmental delay. A slower development of the link between the central nervous system and the bladder can lead to bed-wetting. This link stops the bladder from emptying at night.

  • Hormonal problems. The antidiuretic hormone controls the amount of urine the kidneys make. If production of this hormone is out-of-cycle, bed-wetting can occur.

  • Urinary tract infections

  • Structural abnormalities in the urinary tract

  • Stress

Children's bladder control increases as they get older. Expect improvement by age 6.

Rashes

Rashes are common in children. Fortunately, most rashes are not associated with serious illness.

Common infectious childhood rashes, such as measles, rubella, and chicken pox have almost disappeared thanks to immunizations.

Infectious rashes that are still common and for which there are no vaccines include hand-foot-and-mouth disease (not the same as hoof-and-mouth disease in cattle), roseola, and erythema infectiosum (also called fifths disease or slapped cheek disease).

Noninfectious rashes of childhood that are common include eczema, infant cradle cap, and contact dermatitis. Diaper rashes are common and may be due to irritation by the diaper or a type of fungal infection called Candida albicans. Today's diapers are better at keeping a baby's skin dry and healthy, but rashes are still common. 

So the next time your child comes down with an ear infection, cold, or rash, remember that you should see these illnesses a little less with each passing year.