What is paediatric respiratory medicine?
Paediatric respiratory medicine deals with issues of the upper respiratory tract (the nose, pharynx and larynx) and the lower respiratory tract (trachea, bronchi and lungs) in children.
Specialist respiratory paediatricians – who are also known as paediatric pulmonologists – work closely with a specially trained team in order to treat childhood problems of the respiratory system. This team will include nurses, respiratory physiologists, respiratory physiotherapists, specialist dieticians and psychologists.
At BMI Healthcare, our experienced teams will work with you and your child to diagnose, treat and manage conditions such as asthma, infections such as pneumonia, and respiratory issues such as snoring and chronic coughs.
Our paediatric teams are specially trained in the treatment of infants, children and young people.
What respiratory concerns are most common in children?
The cough reflex is a vital protective action of the body to clear the airways of mucus and irritants (like dust or smoke). A cough may be distressing for both the child and their parents or carers, but in general it is beneficial to the body – it helps clear the chest.
Most coughs aren’t serious, and most will stop without treatment. However, an acute cough may need treatment, so you should seek medical advice.
Common causes of short-term acute coughs include:
- Infections of the upper or lower respiratory tract
- Croup [link to new page on croup]
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
- Allergies (including hay fever)
- Flare-ups of conditions such as asthma or bronchitis
- Exposure to irritants
If your child has a cough that lasts more than four weeks, this is classed as a chronic cough and you should seek medical advice.
Noisy breathing, stridor and croup
Croup is a common childhood condition caused by swelling of the voice box, windpipe, and the airways to the lungs. Symptoms include laboured breathing and a barking cough.
Find out more about noisy breathing, stridor and croup.
Snoring is very common in children, with 8-15% of them snoring most nights. If there are no underlying causes or worrying symptoms alongside the snoring, it is not normally a cause for concern.
In some cases, snoring can indicate more serious sleep problems, which it’s important to treat in order to improve your child’s quality of life.
Find out more about snoring in children.
Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the airways. Tubes called bronchi, which carry air in and out of our lungs, become sensitive and inflamed, making it harder to breathe.
Common symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and a tight chest. Find out more about asthma in children.
Wheezing and breathlessness
Wheezing a common childhood respiratory symptom, described by the British Thoracic Society as ‘a continuous high-pitched musical sound coming from the chest’. It’s common in babies and young children as their airways are still small.
Wheezing is a hallmark for asthma but may be caused by other conditions too. It is often caused by a cold or virus and will go away as the infection clears. If your child is not distressed or struggling for breath, your doctor may describe them as a ‘happy wheezer’ and will not prescribe treatment.
Other conditions that can cause wheezing include:
- Respiratory tract infection
- Small or floppy airways
- Inhalation of foreign object(s)
- Allergies and anaphylaxis
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Bronchitis and airway inflammation
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Vocal cord dysfunction
- Exposure to tobacco smoke
Even if you think your child is a happy wheezer, it’s best to see a doctor just to be safe, and especially if the wheeze is accompanied by breathlessness, eating difficulties or sleep problems.
Chest infections and pneumonia
Chest infections are common in children and can cause fever as well as respiratory symptoms such as coughing and breathlessness. These infections are not always serious, but some can be, so you should always seek advice if your child presents with a high temperature or breathing issues.
Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs (alveoli) in one or both lungs. It can cause symptoms including a cough with phlegm or pus, a fever, chills, or difficulty breathing. Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening, and can be very serious for infants and young children.
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis. This bacteria most commonly affects the lungs, though technically it can affect any organ in the body.
Most people’s immune systems are able to fight off TB, but some people will unfortunately fall ill. Luckily, while tuberculosis was previously considered incurable, most cases can now be treated using a prolonged course of powerful antibiotics.
The BCG vaccine offers protection against TB and is recommended for babies, children and adults under 35 considered at risk of catching tuberculosis. Speak to your GP if you think your child may be at risk.
We offer a wide range of treatments for a variety of respiratory complaints in children
- Chronic cough
- Breathlessness, chest tightening and shortness of breath
- Croup, snoring and noisy breathing
- Wheezing and whistling on chest
- Asthma and bronchiolitis
- Pneumonia and other lower respiratory tract infections
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Other rare lung diseases like Cystic Fibrosis, Ciliary Dyskinesia and Interstitial Lung Disease
Common diagnostic tests for breathing problems
- Allergy and Immunology Tests
- Lung function testing
- CT Scan of Chest
- Overnight oximetry sleep study