Chest Infection In Toddlers – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments by Dr. Srikanta J T

6 min read

Written by Dr. Srikanta J T

Dr. Srikanta J T

Chest infection in toddlers

Toddlers tend to get cough and cold frequently due to their still-developing immune and respiratory systems. While common coughs and colds resolve on their own, sometimes these colds and coughs can turn into chest infections. Seeing a toddler suffering from wheezing and struggling to breathe can be quite difficult for parents. You may notice that your little one is putting a lot of effort into breathing and is becoming fussy while eating food. All these are signs of chest infection in toddlers.

A child suffering from chest infections will feel tired and exhausted all day, due to a lack of proper sleep. A blocked and runny nose, giving way to fever and noisy breathing, needs immediate attention and a trip to the doctor if the situation gets out of hand. Read the article to know more about chest infections in toddlers. pregnancy pillow

In This Article

What Is A Chest Infection?

Viruses and bacteria which get inside the body through different means deposit in the tissue of the lungs and multiply, causing chest infection. If a chest infection affects your child’s larger airways, it is known as bronchitis. If the virus affects your child’s smaller air sacs, it leads to pneumonia.

The common chest infections seen in toddlers are:

  1. Bronchitis: Bronchitis is a common and less serious type of chest infection. The lining of the tubes leading from the throat to lungs (trachea and bronchi) get infected by the virus causing pain in the throat and the upper chest when your child coughs
  2. Pneumonia: Pneumonia is a relatively serious type of chest infection caused by bacteria and is dangerous if not treated in time. The air sacs of the lungs get inflamed and fill with fluids, affecting the elasticity of the lungs, thus making it difficult for your child to breathe

Causes Of A Chest Infection In Toddlers

There are numerous factors that can lead to chest infection, such as:

Weather Changes

Respiratory diseases increase in children during extreme climatic conditions such as heatwaves and extremely cold winters. Viruses and bacteria causing respiratory problems also spread during the monsoon season.

Low Immunity Level

The immunity level of a toddler is low compared to a big child. This will always put them at a higher position of getting infected easily.

Exposure to Air Pollution

The higher the pollution level, the more chances are for your child to catch respiratory problems. Inhaling tobacco smoke will put your child at risk of developing bronchitis. Exposure to second-hand smoking regularly will lead to a prolonged chest infection


allergy in toddler

If he develops a chest infection every time you take him to a particular place or if he catches infection during the same season every year, it is time to consider the allergies your baby might have. Allergies to house dust mites, molds, pet animal’s fur or hair, pollen of some plants, etc. are some of the reasons behind the intermittent respiratory problems in children

Common Cold

Children are more likely to catch a cold. They are likely to come in contact with one of more than two hundred varieties of viruses causing the common cold. These viruses can spread through the air and the child can get them by direct contact with infected persons.

In some cases, chest infectious diseases such as bronchitis, influenza, etc. develop after a common cold, which is largely a usual condition in children. This is because, after fighting off the virus causing the cold, the immune system of your child will be temporarily weakened.

This increases the chance for the germs to deposit and multiply in the lung tissue causing chest infections. Asthmatic attacks also get worse with cold.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Chest Infection In Toddlers?

The Symptoms Of A Chest Infection In Toddlers

Nowadays, cough is common in toddlers. Coughing is a process by which the body removes foreign particles and mucus from the lungs. Since the toddlers are exposed to different circumstances, normally there is no need to worry about a cough. But, if it persists for more than two weeks and if it is accompanied by temperature and a wheezing sound in their chest, you may need to suspect a chest infection.

The most common symptoms of chest infection in toddlers are:

  • Persistent cough and fever
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite and vomiting
  • Pain in the chest and the abdominal region

Diagnosis of Chest Infection in Toddlers

Diagnosis of Chest Infection in Toddlers

To diagnose chest infection in your toddler, your pediatrician may perform one or more of the following tests.

Physical Examination

As a first step, the doctor may listen to the child’s lungs with a stethoscope to check for unusual sounds and also observe breathing patterns.

Chest X-Ray

This test will give the doctor an image of your toddler’s lung condition. The presence of fluids and any anomalies will be seen on an X-ray.

Blood Tests

A blood test will help check for the presence of bacterial infection. Depending on the test results, the doctor may choose to put your toddler on antibiotics if necessary.

Other tests include sputum culture, pulse oximetry, bronchoscopy, chest fluid scan, etc. These are prescribed rarely and in cases of severe infection.

Treating Chest Infection in Toddlers

turmeric milk

Mild chest infections can be treated at home. Don’t give antibiotics and cough syrups without consulting the doctor. When the child develops more symptoms as time passes and shows severe breathing problems, it is time for you to consult your child’s pediatrician.

You can take the following steps at home to help your child minimize the discomfort due to a chest infection.

  • Raise your child’s head with extra pillows while sleeping to make him breathe easier
  • Using a humidifier in the room will help your child get a good sleep. It will help to hydrate your baby’s nasal tract. You can add two drops of eucalyptus into the water.
  • Inhaling steam is another tip to ease your child’s discomfort and irritation due to a chest infection. For this, you can make them sit in the bathroom after closing the door and opening the hot shower (making sure the water won’t reach the toddler). Steam inhalation will help to loosen your child’s blocked air path.
  • Nebulizing will help clear the chest of your child. Read more about Nebulizers here.
  • Boil milk with a pinch of turmeric (which has anti-inflammatory, anti-virus, and anti-bacterial property). Giving lukewarm turmeric milk is a good home remedy for chest infection.

Prevention is always better than cure. Hygiene is a prime factor that helps to prevent disease-causing germs from getting into your child’s body. Practicing and teaching your child good hygiene is important. Make your house and the car in which you travel with your child a non-smoking zone.


1. How Long Does it Take a Toddler to Get Over a Chest Infection?

Normally most of the chest infections in toddlers will take anywhere from a week to around 10 days to start showing signs of improvement. And the cough can last for about four to six weeks. However, in some cases it may take more time depending upon the severity of the infection and complications, if any.

2. Can a Child’s Chest Infection go Without Antibiotics?

In case of a mild chest infection, no medicine is required and it will get cured on its own. But, in case of a chest infection caused by bacteria, antibiotics will be required.

3. Is Steam Good For Chest Infection?

Inhaling steam can provide some relief from the symptoms of cold and cough. Steam helps to loosen the mucus blocking the breathing passages, making it easy to expel the mucus through cough, and ease breathing. So, yes in a way steam is good for chest infection, but it doesn’t cure it and neither does it work for extreme cases.

Dr. Srikanta J T, MBBS, Diploma in Child Health (DCH), Diplomate of National Board(DNB), Fellowship in Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine(NUH, Singapore), Training in Interventional Pulmonology
Consultant - Paediatric Interventional Pulmonology, Allergy and Sleep Medicine, ASTER CMI Hospital
10 years of experience

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