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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Tiang Sack Sing and Dr Jessica Gunawan on January 4, 2023

How To Spot An Upper Respiratory Infection in Children

Children are prone to getting sick with an upper respiratory infection. While you can't always prevent them, the tips in this guide can help you properly care for your child.

Sick child min scaled

Does it seem like your child is always sick with an upper respiratory infection during the school year? If so, you aren’t imagining things.

Children tend to get sick more than adults. This is likely due to their underdeveloped immune systems and close contact with other children.

Knowing the different types of upper respiratory infections your child may have will help you treat their symptoms faster. Here’s how to spot them.

What Is An Upper Respiratory Infection?

Smiling children running together at school while wearing backpacks
Kids are prone to getting sick at school on the playground or while in close proximity to each other.

An upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is caused by various bacteria and viruses. These pathogens typically affect the nose, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, and large nasal airways.

The common cold is an economic and societal burden that infects young children more frequently than adults. This can be attributed to frequent close contact with other children who have a URTI at school or the playground. 

“In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it relates directly to a cold, fever, and cough. Mild cases mainly have nasopharyngeal symptoms, such as nasal congestion, a runny nose, and sneezing. It’s also accompanied by throat discomfort and mild coughing,” explains Tiang Sack Sing, a TCM Physician for Eu Yan Sang. She adds that a child usually recovers within 5 to 7 days.

“In severe cases, fever, sore throat, headache, general aches, coughing with pus, thick sputum, or yellow thick nasal discharge, can be seen. If treatment is not provided promptly, the condition may last for 2 to 3 weeks. Moreover, if the immune system is weak, it is likely to face attacks or episodes of infections,” she stated.

Types Of Upper Respiratory Infections

Here are a few URTI that affect children and the herbal remedies that can tackle each infection differently.

Common Cold

The rhinovirus (also known as the common cold) is responsible for up to 80% of all URTI. Symptoms of the common cold in children could reach peak intensity shortly after infection and may last for 7 to 10 days. In some instances, the duration of symptoms may range anywhere between 2 and 14 days. 

The most prevalent symptoms among children infected with the common cold include a runny nose, blocked nasal passages, a dry cough, sore or scratchy throat, and sneezing. Some may also experience muscle aches and a fever, but to a lesser degree. 

To relieve the common cold in children, you may give them an herbal remedy that combines Echinacea, propolis, and elderberry. This formulation can help decrease the number of cold episodes, the days your child is down with illness, and potentially the days your child misses school.


A worried mother checking her child's temperature for a fever
A fever, cough, headache, fatigue, and body aches are common among children with the flu.

Children younger than 5 years old have a higher susceptibility to influenza than adults and older children. The symptoms of influenza include a fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, and fatigue. Some may also experience vomiting and diarrhea. 

Determining whether a URTI like influenza is hot or cold in nature can help parents provide their children with the appropriate remedies. According to Physician Tiang, infections of a cold nature may present as fever, fear of Cold and Wind, clear or pale urine, and clear mucus and phlegm that are thin in consistency.

Hot-natured infections, on the other hand, will present as symptoms like fever, irritability, red face, eyes or lips, dry and hard stools, and thick, yellow-colored mucus and phlegm. 

For children with hot-natured influenza, Physician Tiang suggests consuming a herbal compound for heavy phlegm, night terrors, flu, or a cold. Children can also consume a tonic powder to lessen phlegm-Heatiness and infantile convulsion. 

Drinking herbal tea or a dilution of Pearl Powder in water can also help to dispel heat from the body. Children suffering from acute, prolonged coughs can also consume a herbal syrup that combines various ingredients with propolis and pure honey. Though, people with allergies should be cautious when taking this syrup or refrain from consuming the formulation altogether. 

Meanwhile, for Cold-natured influenza, parents can give their children warm ginger tea to induce sweating. Physician Tiang also suggests the use of ancient, powdered remedies to disperse ‘Wind’ and Cold, treat coughs, or eliminate phlegm.

Alternatively, a child can consume elderberry juice to allay symptoms of the virus and soothe the inflamed nasal passages.

Acute Bacterial Rhinosinusitis

The characteristics of this URTI include several symptoms, including a persistent nasal discharge or cough that lasts for 10 days or more without improving.

You should also monitor any worsening symptoms after early indications of improvement. A high fever accompanied by nasal discharge for 3 or more days is generally a cause for concern. 

To suppress acute rhinosinusitis, you can use a herbal remedy that combines gentian root, primrose flowers with calyx, common sorrel herb, elderflowers, and European vervain.

This formulation can clear nasal discharge and mitigate the symptoms of acute rhinosinusitis. For instance, blocked nasal breathing, a cough, headaches, and throat hoarseness. Children can consume this in capsule or liquid form.

Strep Throat

A girl with a sore throat sticking out her tongue for a doctor to diagnose her health condition
Your child’s doctor can examine them to confirm a strep throat diagnosis.

Streptococcal pharyngitis, also known as strep throat, is a common URTI. Shockingly, it accounts for more than 37% of children diagnosed with sore throat cases. A strep throat diagnosis involves a few different symptoms.

Difficulty breathing and swallowing, fever, white spots on the back of the throat, tonsils or tongue, excessive drooling, headache, fussiness, dehydration, joint pain and swelling, and a rash are common among children with a strep throat infection. 

Numerous herbal remedies may act as anti-bacterial agents against the bacteria that cause strep throat. These include barberry root, licorice, oregano flowering shoots, and thyme.

TCM recommends mixing these ingredients with hot water before consumption. Children can also consume Radix Isatidis to alleviate a sore throat, help remove toxicity, cool Blood, and clear body Heat. 

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the respiratory system that could spread very easily. This infection is initially diagnosed through a cold, which then develops into coughs that last for several minutes. It will also cause a child to make a “whoop” sound. It causes a gasp for breath between coughs and thick mucus. 

You can identify whooping cough through 3 unique stages of illness: the catarrhal, paroxysmal, and recovery stages (convalescent). For this reason, using herbal remedies as a treatment should be based on the progress of the disorder in your child and not just the treatment of the symptoms.

You can give your child an infant-friendly, herbal formulation that is free of synthetic ingredients. It’s worth noting that this formulation has also been tested against heavy metals and chemicals. 

Can You Prevent An Upper Respiratory Infection?

Prevention is better than cure. However, if your child does get a URTI, do not panic. Being able to differentiate between the symptoms of hot or cold-natured URTI can go a long way in helping to alleviate your child’s illness effectively.

Applying pressure to certain acupoints can also help to relieve a few upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. These include He Gu (LI 4) and Qu Chi (LI 11).

Similarly, the consumption of herbal remedies may also help ease the symptoms of a specific upper respiratory tract infection. Consult a pediatric-trained TCM practitioner about the best options for your child.


  1. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Upper Respiratory Tract Infection. [online] Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532961/> 
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2014. Common Cold Symptoms in Children: Results of an Internet-Based Surveillance Program. [online] Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4090373/
  3. American Family Physician. 2012. Treatment of the Common Cold in Children and Adults. [online] Available at <https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0715/p153.html
  4. US National Library of Medicine. 2019. Herbal Tea for the Management of Pharyngitis: Inhibition of Streptococcus pyogenes Growth and Biofilm Formation by Herbal Infusions. [online] Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6783935/> 
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu & Young Children. [online] Available at <https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/children.htm
  6. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Traditional Chinese Medicine in Treating Influenza: From Basic Science to Clinical Applications. [online] Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7526665/
  7. MedScape. 2020. Upper Respiratory Tract Infection. [online] Available at <https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/302460-overview
  8. US National Library of Medicine. 2015. Phytoneering: a new way of therapy for rhinosinusitis[online] Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4443571/
  9. MedScape. 2016. Pediatric Epiglottitis. [online] Available at <https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/963773-overview
  10. NHS. Whooping cough. [online] Available at <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/whooping-cough/
  11. Dr. Jake Paul Fratkin. The Treatment of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) With Chinese Herbal Medicine. [online] Available at <https://drjakefratkin.com/articles/pediatrics-articles/the-treatment-of-pertussis-whooping-cough-with-chinese-herbal-medicine/>

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