Clinical Contributors to this story:
Jessica Yao, M.D.
Community First Interim Chief Medical Officer
Do you feel like your kid gets sick more often than their friends or classmates? Some children seem to catch every cold, stomach bug, or virus going around. It is difficult when our little ones aren’t feeling their best. As caregivers, we want to do everything we can to help them stay healthy. When they feel bad, we feel bad.
Everyone gets sick at some point. This is a normal, expected part of life. The frequency of infections in children can vary depending on various factors, including age, a child’s overall health, vaccination status, exposure to germs, and the time of the year.
Infants and young children tend to get sick more frequently, especially in their first year of life. In fact, toddlers and pre-school-aged children may have as many as 8 to 12 colds, respiratory infections, and/or stomach bugs a year. This is because their immune systems are still developing and they often explore their environment by putting things in their mouths.
As children grow and their immune systems strengthen, they might experience fewer infections. Five or six colds per year is average; eight to 10 is still in the normal range.
When Should I Talk to My Child’s Doctor?
Of course, in rare cases, a child may have an immune deficiency, an auto-immune disorder, or another health issue that causes them to be ill more often. If your child fits into any of the following categories, make sure to have a conversation with their doctor.
- They get sick with respiratory tract infections or ear infections more than 6 times a year.
- They have 4 or more new ear infections in one year.
- They begin losing weight and do not seem to be growing at the same rate as other kids their age.
- Their infections do not seem to go away, and they require multiple hospitalizations and/or multiple rounds of antibiotics
- Their family history includes family members with immune disorders.
But Why My Kid?
Are you still left wondering why YOUR kid gets back-to-back ear infections while your best friend’s toddler has never had one? Or how come the moment your little one seems to be over a cold, the runny nose and cough come back with a vengeance the very next week? We asked the experts to help us make some sense of it all.
1. Age: Children’s immune systems are constantly developing from birth until they are around 7 years old. Because younger children have less developed immune systems to fight off infections, they are more likely to catch an illness that can spread from person to person.
2. Daycare: Children in daycare or preschool are exposed to germs ALL THE TIME. Germs spread quickly in these environments; young kids share toys, put their hands in their mouths constantly, and touch each other’s hands and faces.
3. Allergies: If your child has upper respiratory allergies, they may get more colds than normal, which could account for constant sniffles, runny nose, and congestion. When the body is fighting off allergens, the upper respiratory system becomes inflamed, making your child more susceptible to cold germs.
4. Season: It’s called cold and flu season for a reason! During the colder, winter months, you’re more likely to be indoors and closer to others and cold and viruses survive better and spread easier when it’s cooler and there’s low humidity.
5. Antibiotic Use: When your child is prescribed antibiotics for a bacterial infection, like strep throat, it’s very important they finish the full course, even after they’re feeling better. Taking antibiotics as prescribed until the prescription is complete helps ensure that ALL bacteria are killed. If your child stops treatment too soon, some bacteria may still be present, and this can lead to a resurgence of the infection. Then, even as you think you’re getting better, a new infection is already potentially getting underway.
6. Secondhand Smoke: Generally, children who are exposed to secondhand smoke get sick more frequently than kids whose parents do not smoke. Why? Because children’s immune systems are still developing. Secondhand smoke irritates their airways and ear canals and can cause numerous health problems, including more frequent ear infections, respiratory infections, and asthma attacks.
How Can I Help My Child Stay Healthy?
Here are some important steps to protect yourself, your children, and others from getting and spreading germs.
1. Clean Hands: Handwashing is such a simple task, but it can’t be understated how important it is to teach your kids proper handwashing skills. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Make it a family activity. Come up with your own handwashing song or turn it into a game. Give frequent reminders and lead by example.
2. Vaccines: Kids who are not vaccinated against preventable diseases are more likely to catch those diseases and get seriously ill. Vaccinations provide an additional level of protection for your children and the people they spend time with, including other kids and family members (especially babies and senior citizens).
❗ Flu season is here! Make sure your child has gotten their annual flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all individuals aged 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year.
Children ages 6 months through 8 years who have not previously received at least 2 total doses of flu vaccine 4 weeks apart before July 1, 2023, or whose flu vaccination history is unknown need TWO doses of the 2023-24 flu vaccine, given 4 weeks apart.
The CDC also recommends that everyone ages 5 and up should get 1 dose of an updated COVID-19 vaccine.
3. Covering Coughs and Sneezes: Teaching your kids how to cover their coughs and sneezes can help prevent the spread of viruses at school or daycare. Show them how to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Have them throw away the used tissue and then wash their hands immediately. If they don’t have a tissue, show them how to cough or sneeze into their elbow, not their hands.
4. Exercise and Nutrition: If your child is not eating well, it can have a powerful impact on their immune system and lessen their defenses against getting sick. Kids need to eat fresh, non-processed, vitamin-rich food, like fruit and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. Also, fresh air, sunshine, and outdoor play are SO beneficial for the body and mind.
5. Stress and Anxiety: Did you know that stress can weaken your child’s immune system? If you think stress may be contributing to your child’s physical health, talk to them about what’s going on and take small steps to make improvements. Strive for a bit more one-on-one time or schedule a fun activity together. Let your child know you love them and you’re there for them. And don’t be afraid to seek help for your child’s well-being.
6. Sleep, the Best Medicine. Sleep is when the body heals itself. Getting enough sleep leads to better mental and physical health and improves overall quality of life. Review how much sleep children at different ages need each day, based on recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Having a sick child is never fun. Parents and guardians can follow the tips in this article to prepare for the cold and flu season and to help their children build up good defenses against disease. Keep an eye out for warning signs and know when to contact your child’s doctor.
Protect Your Child from COVID-19, the Flu, and Other Illnesses | CDC
Promoting Health for Children and Adolescents | CDC
The constant cold: Why kids are always sick and what to do about it – Mayo Clinic Press
Why is my child always sick? A pediatrician answers your questions
Parents of Childcare and K-12 Students | Nonpharmaceutical Interventions | CDC
What Is the Recommended Amount of Sleep for My Child? – Cleveland Clinic