Note: Consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment of this condition. Use home remedies only as an adjunct to treatment.
Pneumonia in children is something that you should not take lightly.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of death caused due to an infection among the children under five, killing about 2,400 children a day. In fact, it accounted for almost 16% of the 5.6 million under-five deaths, resulting in the death of around 880,000 children in 2016. Most of these children were less than 2 years of age.
Pneumonia is a type of lung infection that affects one or both of the lungs. In pneumonia, the lungs become inflamed and are filled up with fluids, which results in cough and difficulty breathing. Infants from birth to 2 years old are at a higher risk of pneumonia, but children above 2 years can also acquire it.
Causes of Pneumonia in Children
The infection can develop after a cold or flu, particularly in the winter months.
- The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne reports that pneumonia can be caused by a number of possible viruses and bacteria.
- The acute lower respiratory infections (ALRIs) are caused by several respiratory bacterial and viral pathogens.
- Respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, adenoviruses, parainfluenza virus type 3, and human metapneumovirus are the major viral causes of ALRI and pneumonia in infants and children.
- Viruses may be the predominant cause of ALRIs in young children; respiratory bacterial pathogens are often the cause of childhood deaths due to pneumonia.
Symptoms of Pneumonia in Children
The symptoms of pneumonia in children varies depending on the child’s age and cause of pneumonia. Children often exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- High fever
- Fast and/or difficulty breathing
- Irritability or more tired than usual
- Pain in the chest (especially when coughing)
- Abdominal (tummy) aches or pain
- Loss of appetite
Prevention of Pneumonia
Vaccination is the main preventive measure of pneumonia. There are vaccines available that prevent some types of pneumonia and flu. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend pneumococcal vaccination for all children younger than 2 years old and all adults 65 years or older as a preventive measure.
In a 2017 study published in the Bulletin World Health Organization, researchers analyzed the benefits of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines and hospitalization of children for pneumonia in South Africa from the period 2006–2014. It was found that following the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines into the national immunization program, there were significant reductions in pneumonia hospitalizations among children.
So, to protect your child from pneumonia, make sure your child gets vaccinated at the right time. There are different pneumonia vaccines for children younger than age 2 and for children ages 2 to 5 years who are at particular risk of pneumococcal disease. Always talk with your doctor about vaccinations.
Other preventive steps that you can take to prevent the chances of your child coming down with pneumonia include the following:
- Ensure that your child stays away from anyone who is sick. Also, if your child is suffering from runny nose, cough, sneezing, etc., then it would be advisable to keep him/her away from healthy children.
- Make sure that your child is given the flu shot yearly.
- Practice good hygiene and teach your child about the benefits of good hygiene.
- Regular hand washing is crucial in preventing virus or bacteria from entering the body. If hand washing is not possible, then use hand sanitizers.
- Do not allow your child to share personal items, such as eating utensils, cups, tissues, and handkerchiefs with anyone.
- Keep your child’s immune system strong by following a healthy diet. Include fresh vegetables and fruits, especially the ones containing a high quantity of vitamins C and A to strengthen their immune system.
- Make exercise a part of your child’s daily routine to build immunity.
When to See a Doctor
Consult your child’s doctor immediately if you think your child has pneumonia. Immediate medical attention is required in case any of the following symptoms appear in your child:
- Fast, noisy, and effortful breathing
- Loss in appetite
- Looks pale and unwell
- Is not recovering from a mild illness
- Suddenly seems to get worse after seeming to get better
In developed countries like the United States, pneumonia is not as life-threatening as it once was because of the availability of antibiotics and other modern treatments. However, in developing countries, pneumonia is still a big threat to children.
Pneumonia is dangerous in children because their immune system easily weakens. Prompt treatment is a must. In the meantime, you can use some remedies to support their immune system to eliminate infection and help relieve the symptoms.
Here are some home remedies to ease the symptoms of pneumonia and promote a healthy recovery in children. You can use these remedies to complement the doctor’s treatment plan.
1. Slightly Warm Moist Air
Warm moist air will help loosen and break down the sticky mucus that could be blocking your child’s airway and making it difficult to breathe. You can use a humidifier or a mist vaporizer in the room where your child rests.
- Fill the humidifier with warm water.
- Allow your child to breathe in the warm mist.
2. Breast Milk
For babies younger than 6 months old who are diagnosed with pneumonia, breast milk is very important. It offers a unique balance of nutrients that strengthens a baby’s weak immune system and is tailored to fight a baby’s illness.
Breast milk is quickly and easily digested. It will even keep a sick baby properly hydrated, which is essential for fast recovery.
A 2011 study published in the Journal de Pediatria reports that increased prevalence rates of breastfeeding during the first year of life and exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life can reduce the number of hospitalizations for pneumonia.
Another 2013 study published in BMC Public Health highlights the importance of breastfeeding during the first 23 months of life as a key intervention for reducing morbidity and mortality due to pneumonia.
- Try to breastfeed your young baby frequently. If your baby refuses to nurse while experiencing a fever, try different nursing positions.
- If your baby refuses nursing regularly, then pump out the breast milk and feed it to your baby using a spoon or bottle.
3. Proper Rest
A sick body needs plenty of downtime to heal. For small children suffering from pneumonia, it is important for parents to make them rest as much as possible.
Refrain your child from physical activity and get him/her enough bed rest to allow the body to focus on repairing itself, rather than using energy to power the muscles. Rest is vital for cellular repair in the body and is especially beneficial for shortness of breath. Physical exertion can exaggerate the symptoms.
Do not send your child to play school or take him/her to the playground until after his/her temperature returns to normal and he/she stops coughing up mucus.
Even when your child starts to feel better, be careful that he/she does not overdo it. Because pneumonia can recur, it’s better not to make your child jump back into his/her routine until fully recovered. Adequate rest can also help to prevent relapse.
To properly manage pneumonia in infants and children, proper hydration is a must.
Pneumonia can cause mild fever in children. During fever, keeping the body sufficiently rehydrated with the help of liquids and electrolytes is essential to prevent dehydration.
Also, fluid intake helps to thin excess mucus and to ease coughing. Expelling mucus helps the body to get rid of the germs out of your child’s system, allowing fast healing from the lung infection.
- Feed breast milk as well as fruit juice and chilled yogurt to babies 6 months or older. For younger babies, feed plenty of breast milk or baby formula.
- If your child is older, make him/her drink lukewarm water or milk at regular intervals.
- Fruit juice, vegetable soup, and clear broths are also good options.
If your child refuses large amounts of fluids at a time, give smaller amounts more often.
5. Lukewarm Water Compress
Apart from coughing, your child may develop mild chest pain due to pneumonia. To help your child get relief, use a lukewarm compress.
- Put some lukewarm water in a bowl.
- Soak a clean washcloth in the water.
- Wring out the excess water, and then place the wet cloth on child’s chest.
- Once the cloth warms, remove it and repeat again.
You can also use a damp washcloth to sponge areas like your child’s armpits, feet, hands, and groin to reduce the body temperature during fever.
A lukewarm water bath will also help in reducing the fever.
- Avoid smoking in front of your child as second-hand smoke will aggravate the symptoms.
- Make sure your child takes a lot of rest and sleep.
- To prevent dehydration, give your child fluids frequently. Offer small sips of water to children and breast milk or formula to younger children more often.
- It is crucial to complete the child’s full antibiotic course if he/she has been prescribed.
- Always use a measuring device to give medication.
- Don’t treat a fever in children less than 18 years of age with aspirin, as it can lead to serious health problems.
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- Pneumonia. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Pneumonia/. Published February 2018.
- Chang AB, Ooi MH, Perera D, Grimwood K. Improving the Diagnosis, Management, and Outcomes of Children with Pneumonia: Where are the Gaps? Frontiers in Pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3864194/. Published 2013.
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- Vaccines and Preventable Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html. Published December 6, 2017.
- Izu A, Solomon F, Nzenze SA, et al. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines and hospitalization of children for pneumonia: a time-series analysis, South Africa, 2006–2014. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5578378/. Published September 1, 2017.
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- Boccolini CS, Carvalho MLde, Oliveira MICde, Boccolini Pde MM. Breastfeeding can prevent hospitalization for pneumonia … Jornal de Pediatria. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51838677. Published 2011.
- Lamberti LM, Zakarija-Grković I, Walker CLF, et al. Breastfeeding for reducing the risk of pneumonia morbidity and mortality in children under two: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847465/. Published 2013.
- Walking Pneumonia. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. http://www.etch.com/Kids-Health/Parents/2016/Walking-Pneumonia.aspx. Accessed October 16, 2018.