Recurrent Infections in My Toddler – When Should I Bother by Dr. Sagar Bhattad

10 min read

By Dr. Sagar Bhattad, MBBS, MD Pediatrics
DM - Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital
7 years of experience

Recurrent Infections in My Toddler

Toddler fall sick quite often. Some toddler can fall sick more often than others. The cause for the illness varies every time. With so many pathogens in the environment, toddler get infected easily. Their immune systems are still weak and developing. A virus or bacteria can affect toddler more easily than adults.

While it is common for a preschooler to catch an infection from time to time, how often is too frequent? Is your toddler’s immune system learning to fight or is it weak and under attack? Does your toddler have immunodeficiency or are they just growing up? How can you say? Where do you draw the line and when should you start worrying? Read on to know more about Recurrent infections in toddlers and how to handle them.

In This Article

Why do Toddler Catch Recurrent Infections?

When a preschooler starts stepping out of their safe environment – their home, they encounter a variety of elements in the atmosphere. Their bodies are not used to it and the pathogens in the environment are new to their immune system. Their immune system is still weak and immature.

Every time your toddler falls sick due to an infection, their immune system is developing, it is learning about the foreign intruder and is also learning how to fight it effectively. The next time, the body encounters this particular invader, it will remember how to fight it and in most cases prevent your toddler from falling sick due to the same infection again.

On average, a small kid experiences 6 infections per year before they turn five years old. The numbers can go up when they start pre-school or daycare. This is quite common. There is nothing alarming about these numbers.

  • In some rare cases, the child could have PID – Primary Immunodeficiency.
  • Too many infections in a single year (two or more severe infections; three or more respiratory infections).
  • Infections lasting longer than usual.
  • Toddler not responding as expected to oral medications.
  • Confined to bed for a week and missing out on regular activities.
  • Need for intravenous antibiotics.
  • Tests persistently show abnormalities.

When the above-mentioned features are noticed in your toddler, it can be categorized as recurrent infections.

Types of Infections – Bacterial and Viral Infections

Infections can be of two main categories:

1. Bacterial Infections

Bacteria live everywhere and in every condition. Be it rainy or sunny, hot or cold, dry or wet, bacteria will survive. However, bacteria can be both good and bad. We need good bacteria for the optimal functioning of our bodies. Good bacteria help make the immune system stronger and fight infections better.

The bad bacteria on the other hand, are what causes these “infections”. When the bad bacteria enter the body, they can infect any part. These bacteria come in three shapes:

  • Rod-shaped (Bacilli)
  • Spherical (Cocci)
  • Helical (Spirilla)

Modes of Bacterial Infections

Bacteria can affect you via

  • Skin
  • Food
  • Sexual transmission
  • Respiratory tract
  • Urinary tract
  • All other parts of the body

A bacterial infection might even occur when a person is suffering from a viral infection and the immune system is compromised.

2. Viral Infection

Viruses are tiny particles made of DNA or RNA and have a protein coating. Some may even have a fatty covering. Just like bacteria, there are good viruses and bad viruses. Good viruses help the human body fight infections and can also aid evolution by transferring genes. Viruses can also affect different parts of the body. During a “viral infection”, the bad virus infiltrates the body’s immune system. It then attaches itself to a host and introduces its genetic material, for reproduction. As the virus multiplies, more host cells are killed. This is why a viral infection can cause cell and tissue damage.

Some viruses stay active throughout the infection period until they are cured. Some become inactive after the initial infection period (chickenpox and cold sores viruses become inactive after the first few days of infection). These viruses can stay back in your body and lay dormant. Something can trigger them again in the future and cause new symptoms.

The Difference

Viruses and Bacteria are completely different pathogens.

  • Bacteria is larger than a virus.
  • Bacteria can reproduce on their own. Virus reproduce by infecting a host and using their DNA to replicate itself.
  • Antibiotics work on bacteria not on viruses.

Signs and Symptoms of Infections in Toddler

Symptoms of Infections in Toddler

How can you tell if your toddler has an infection or not? How can you tell if it is a bacterial infection or a viral infection?

The doctor might prescribe some lab tests to clarify if the infection is viral or bacterial. Determining this early can help treat the infection more effectively. It can even prevent the infection from damaging the body from the inside.

The following signs and symptoms could indicate an infection in your toddler:

  • Sweating or feeling too cold despite normal temperatures
  • Sore throat
  • Fever of more than 100.5o
  • Cough
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain while urinating or Frequent urination
  • More than usual vaginal discharge or a strange odor
  • Pain, swelling, and redness around a wound

Some of the other symptoms that are not so apparent but are generally noticed by the parents or by people around the toddler are:

1. Irritability

The preschooler may seem to be more irritable and moody than usual. The infection could be affecting them internally and the inability to express it could be irritating them.

2. Drowsiness

They may seem to be drowsy or sleeping more and may not respond as effectively or quickly as before.

3. Crying

Crying is the main way for a small child or a toddler expresses discomfort. When they cannot express their feelings in words, they cry.

4. Behavioral Change

The parents or the teachers may notice a change in the toddler’s usual behavior. It could be their mannerisms, their attention span, physical activities, etc.

How to Prevent Recurrent Infections in Toddler?

It can be quite tricky to prevent repeated infections in preschooler. They do not understand the seriousness or the need to prevent such infections. Steady guidance to adopt certain practices in life can help them in the long run.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Wash

toddler washing hand to prevent infection

Regularly wash your hands and your toddler’s hands properly with a good quality soap. Teach them to wash their hands well after getting back home, every time. It is essential to teach them to wash their hands well, without missing any spots.

They should wash their hands after playing, sneezing, or coughing. They should scrub their hands well and wash the underside of their nails too. Not washing hands properly can cause easy transmission of germs.

2. Hygiene

Teach them to follow good hygiene. This includes bathing every day, wearing clean clothes, trimming hair and nails, etc. Good hygiene is essential to maintain an infection-free life. Though this cannot prevent all infections, it can reduce the frequency to a great extent.

3. Active

active toddler

Toddler should have an active lifestyle. Running around and playing in the fresh air can improve the quality of the air they breathe in and make their immune system stronger. Do not let your preschooler lead a sedentary lifestyle in front of a screen.

4. Lifestyle

Encourage them to follow and adapt a healthy lifestyle. Avoid smoking when they are around as passive smoking can cause a lot of infections and affect the toddler’s health in the long run. Teach them the adverse effects of bad habits (smoking etc), and let them understand that these things can seriously damage their immune system.

A healthy lifestyle also includes good quality sleep, a stress-free life, and adapting some hobbies to keep oneself busy and focused.

[Read : 10 Ways To Encourage Your Child To Eat Fruits And Vegetables]

5. Food Habits

toddler healthy eating to prevent infection

Good food habits can go a long way. Encourage and set an example to eat healthy food. Healthy foods must include whole grains, nuts, fresh fruits, vegetables, etc. What you put into your body will play a major role in protecting your body.

6. Medical Checkups

Ensure you do not miss any regular medical check-ups for the toddler. A doctor will check the weight, height, etc., to measure the growth of the toddler. If the growth does not meet expectations, it is an indication something is not right.

7. Vaccinations

toddler taking infection

Do not miss or skip any vaccinations for your toddler. Vaccines help improve the immune system. Vaccines are designed to fight infections and keep protecting the body.

[Read : Toddler Vaccinations]

What ‘Not To Do’ to Treat Your Toddler’s Infection?

When your toddler has recurrent infections, here are a few things you should NOT do, for their own safety:

1. Do Not Self-Medicate

The first and foremost thing not to do when your preschooler has repetitive infections is to diagnose and treat on your own.

You may feel it is the same as the last time, or you may be confident that you have seen it all. You might know the names of the medicines and the procedures to follow. However, do not medicate or treat without a doctor’s consultation.

Doctors will advise on what to do when the toddler has repetitive infections, in case of emergency, etc. Find out from them and only then proceed.

2. Do Not Skip Medicines

Do not skip any medicines the doctor prescribes. Follow the dosages and complete the course of medications given even if the infection subsides. Most antibiotics have a particular course to complete, to help the body get stronger and to prevent another such episode.

3. Do Not Over Medicate

If you feel the medications are not working or helping your toddler, consult your doctor. Do not give extra medicines or increase the dosage. It can be very tempting to do this when you see your little one suffer. All a parent wants for their toddler is to get better sooner. However, when you over-medicate, you are putting your toddler in more danger. Some overdosage effects might subside on their own, but some may cause severe damages.

4. Do Not Blame the Toddler

Do not blame the preschooler for falling sick. Yes, toddler will run around and do things they are not supposed to and fall sick. It can be more difficult with a tddler who has a recurrent infection. Understand the kid is suffering too. They need compassion and understanding in addition to all those treatments and medications.

When to See a Doctor For Recurrent Infections in Toddler?

toddler having fever

If it is a young baby, you need to see the doctor every time they fall sick, unless the doctor prescribes some medicines to be given without a consultation. Recurring infections in a single area could indicate a bigger problem. The doctor can understand the seriousness and diagnose it properly only if they know about the severity and frequency.

If the infections are in different areas of the body, you cannot go with the same treatment as given earlier. You need different medicines and tests.

Consult your doctor immediately if you notice the following:

  • Your toddler is more lethargic and unresponsive than normal.
  • Your toddler is having breathing difficulties.
  • A very high fever that won’t subside with over the counter paracetamol.
  • A body part is affected badly, or activity in that area is low.

[Read : Ibuprofen And Paracetamol For Your Children]

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

doctor with toddler and mom

When your toddler seems to be sick constantly or coming down with an infection now and then, you need to ask your doctor the following questions. The answers to these questions can help you understand your toddler’s situation better and take better measures to provide better care for your child.

Here are 10 questions you need to ask your doctor – along with why these are important.

1. My Toddler Seems to Fall Sick Too Often. What Can We Do to Reduce it?

Try to understand what you can do as a parent to help reduce these episodes.

2. My Toddler Gets Repetitive Infections. Are There Any Treatments to Support this Part of the Body?

Recurrent infection in a particular body part might indicate there is a problem in that area and may need extra support – for example, recurring wheezing may indicate a problem in the lungs; recurring ear infections might require ear tubes to support the ear, etc.

3. Can These Repetitive Infections Cause Any Damage to My Toddler?

Repeated infections to a particular part of the body might make that part weak.

4. What Are the Dangers to Watch Out For?

Could a recurrent infection in the lungs lead to other respiratory problems? Could recurring infection in the stomach lead to other gut issues? Etc.

5. Is My Toddler Immunodeficient/ Immunocompromised?

Try to identify if your toddler’s immunity could be compromised and weak.

6. Can This Be Hereditary?

Doctors might treat genetic problems differently.

7. Could This be a Bigger Problem?

Could the lung infection indicate asthma? Or the frequent urination indicate juvenile diabetics? Etc.

8. Should We Test For Allergies?

Allergies to some environmental factors can cause recurrent colds or coughs.

9. Can We Continue Giving Antibiotics? Will it Affect My Toddler?

Continuous intake of antibiotics for some infection or the other might cause other side effects. Even if the infections treated are different, the components in the antibiotics could be similar.

10. What Medicine Can I Give My Toddler Next Time This Infection Occurs Until We Can Get an Appointment?

Some infections need immediate medication. You may not be in a position to wait till you can consult a doctor. It is safer to give medicine the doctor prescribes than self-medicating.

Toddler get infections more frequently than adults. However, if you feel your preschooler’s infection is relapsing or recurring despite medicines and treatments, it could indicate something more serious. Getting a timely diagnosis can help in reducing the impact of the infection and also improving the quality of life. Ensure you follow the doctor’s instructions and are proactive about keeping these infections at bay.

FAQ’s

1. What Causes Bacterial Infections in Toddlers?

Bacteria causes bacterial infections. There are several bacteria that exist around us and many of those can infect your preschooler at one time or the other. Bacteria can reproduce on their own, thus spreading fast and strong. Bacterial infections can be severe and cause other health issues if not treated in time.

They can also be secondary infections – meaning, an infection started by a virus that later progressed into a bacterial infection. Toddler are given many vaccines in the initial years of their life to prevent many such bacterial infections.

2. What Causes Viral Infections in Toddlers?

Viruses cause viral infections. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and their impact on the health of your toddler is also milder. Not all viral infections are dangerous and most of them will subside on their own. Many viruses spread only during their contagious phase and are dormant after that. Viruses need a host to attach to, else they cannot survive. This is why viruses perish after a few hours on surfaces, unlike bacteria.

Read Also: 10 Most Important Nutrients Needed For Strong Immune System in Kids

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Dr. Sagar Bhattad, MBBS, MD Pediatrics
DM - Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital
7 years of experience

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