Why kids get sick even more when they start preschool


Even if your child has never had a cough or a cold, when she starts playschool– generally at around about the age of two – she will get sick often. Because unfortunately, along with all the pros of your little one starting school (socialisation and stimulation being two of these) come cons, and the upper respiratory infection is one of these.

What are they?

Common colds are caused by viruses and are often called URIs (upper respiratory infections) because they infect the nose, ears, and throat but not the lungs (lower respiratory tract). According to CapeTown-based paediatrician Dr Lara Smith, “The common cold is the most common upper respiratory infection that toddlers get – especially those who have recently started playschool. They are generally viral, but they can lead to secondary infections that are usually bacterial and may require antibiotics.”

Remember, though, that this doesn’t necessarily mean that your toddler’s run of-the-mill common cold is going to be complicated by a secondary infection, for example, bronchiolitis (where the lungs are involved), tonsillitis, sinusitis, or an ear infection.

“Often, it’s just a runny nose, a low-grade temperature and a miserable toddler for a few days. Only if your child doesn’t cope with the cold may it develop into a full-blown infection,” she says.

Give your toddler lots of fluids, try gether to rest lots, give her paracetamol to bring down the fever and perhaps something to dry up her nose ,but keep an eye on her. “A runny nose and cough could persist for up to a week, but if your child is unwell, not feeding well or has a high fever that persists for more than 48 to 72 hours, I would advise that she sees the doctor.”

When it's actually more than a few extra sniffles

While you can expect your toddler to get sick more often once she has started preschool and is then exposed to more germs than her system is used to, there are times when you should consider the possibility of something more serious going on. If your toddler has six to eight recurrent ear infections or bouts of tonsillitis in one year, Cape Town-based paediatrician Dr Lara Smith maintains that definitely warrants a visit to an ear, throat and nose specialist (ENT). “Very frequent episodes of pneumonia or serious infections that require hospitalisation (two to three episodes per year) also indicate that there’s something more serious going on and it then would be worth your while to have your toddler assessed,”she says. It’s always best to rule out any underlying causes that may need treatment.

Why's my toddler sick all the time?

Since the majority of common colds are viral (up to 60 percent), they are more common in the winter when children spend more time indoors and germs spread more easily.

“The average child can get up to eight colds per year in her first two years. After that, it should go down to four to six episodes per year. Of course, if your child starts playschool before she’s two, her risk will be much higher as exposure to new germs and overcrowding in crèches (and big families) all make a toddler more susceptible to the common cold,” says Dr Smith.

She adds, however, that it’s not all doom and gloom and that your child isn’t going to be sick her whole school career, unless she has an immune deficiency.

“Those first few months are generally the roughest because she wouldn’t have been exposed to a huge amount of germs before that,” she explains, adding that the reason why your toddler catches so many colds in her early years, and in particular when she starts playschool, is because of her immature immune system. Once this develops, it genuinely improves, and if your toddler was breastfed as a baby she “should have a relatively good immune system,” Dr Smith says.

Also, remember that a child who suffers from allergies such asrhinitis or asthma will naturally be more susceptible to catching the common cold.

So what can I so about it?

Apart from keeping your child at home in a vacuum, there’s nothing really that you can do to protect her from catching colds that can potentially lead to more serious illnesses.

“If you can, keep children under two out of big crèches. As far as your two-year-old is concerned, you’re just going to have to bite the bullet to get through the tricky first few months and year at playschool. One thing you can do to help, is make sure that she’s eating properly – not always easy with a two-year-old! Putting her on a supplement if she’s a fussy eater can sometimes help as often, toddlers eat one item more than another, and don’t always have a balanced diet.

“There are also adult studies showing that zinc can potentially benefit one’s immune system. If your child is getting sick all the time, then this might be something to consider – although it hasn’t been proven. The same goes for putting your toddler onto probiotics. It can help, although it’s also not proven,” says Dr Smith.

She also stresses that smoking around your toddler is detrimental to her health, and it’s something that you can’t do, as it simply makes the common cold worse.

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