The upper respiratory tract comprises of the sinuses, the nasal passages, pharynx and the larynx. These are the structures that are responsible for directing air from outside into the trachea and eventually into the lungs as we breathe, a process known as respiration (“Sweet Dreams for Coughing Children”, 2007). Upper respiratory infection is a collection, sometimes called a cold or upper respiratory tract infection, refers to an infectious process of any of the above components of the upper airway (Paul et al., 2007). It is a very common illnesses affecting children, leading to frequent visits to the doctor. It’s a major cause of doctor visits and absences from school more than any other illness in children.
Parts of the upper respiratory tract suffer from different infections in children. For instance, rhinitis is an infection that leads to the inflammation of the nasal cavity; sinusitis is an infection that attacks the sinuses around the nose; nasopharyngitis which is also known as common cold causes the inflammation of the pharynx, uvula and tonsils. Others include epiglottitis which causes inflammation of epiglottis which is the upper portion of the larynx, laryngitis affects the larynx, laryngotracheitis causes inflammation of both the larynx and the trachea, whereas tracheitis affects on the trachea (Ahmed, Sutcliffe & Tipper, 2013).
Observant parents may notice some symptoms of upper respiratory infections in their children even before they are taken to hospital for proper diagnosis. These symptoms may include runny nose, cough, sore throat, achy muscles and bones, breathing difficulty, watery eyes, sneezing, headaches, low grade fever and mild fatigue among others (Oduwole et al., 2010). However, these symptoms may resemble other medical problems and it is therefore that parents consult their children’s physicians for a proper diagnosis before resolving to use any cough medicine as most parents would. For this reason, honey is considered a safer treatment for children than the over-the-counter cough syrup.
Children mostly suffer from upper respiratory infections from the months of September to March. That is because it the fall and winter months. Further explanation to this is the fact that these are the months that children and adolescents are usually at school and they spend most of their time in groups and in closed spaces. Siamak (2013), furthermore, states that the low humidity in the winter period is favorable for viruses to thrive in. However, the infections can happen at any time and any month.
Randerson (2008) states that upper respiratory infection is contagious if it is caused by bacterial infections. Its spread from one child to another can be caused by inhaling respiratory droplets from either coughing or sneezing by an infected child. Transmission may also occur when one child touches the nose or mouth of the affected child by hand or by touching any other object that has been exposed to the virus.
Causes of upper respiratory infections are generally viruses and bacteria which directly invade the inner lining of the upper airway. This inner lining is referred to as mucosa or the mucus membrane. However, the pathogens, which are the viruses and bacteria, do not just invade the mucus membrane of the upper airways so easily. They have to fight and make their way through several immunological and physical barriers (Evans, Tuleu & Sutcliffe, 2010).
According to Siamak (2013), the hair in the lining of the child’s nose acts as a physical barrier which can trap the organisms that would be invading the tract. In addition to this, the wet mucus in the nasal cavity has the capability to engulf the pathogens that tend to penetrate the upper airways. There are also structures known as cilia which are small hair-like structures that line the trachea. They move any unwanted materials up towards the pharynx where the materials can be eventually swallowed into the digestive tract down to the stomach.
According to Evans, Tuleu, and Sutcliffe (2010), these intense physical barriers are, however, not completely effective on their own and as a result there are additional mechanisms by the immune system to fight and prevent the invasion of the microbes or pathogens entering the upper airway. Part the immune system that takes part in this process of fighting infections are the adenoids and tonsils that are situated on the upper respiratory tract.
Randerson (2008) states that even with these defense mechanisms, invading pathogens may adapt different mechanisms to resist destruction. They may produce toxins that impair the defense system of the child’s body or they may change their outer structural proteins or shape to disguise from being recognized by the child’s immune systems. This is called change of antigenicity. Some bacteria produce adhesion chemicals that allow them to cling to the mucus membrane hence hindering their destruction.
There are many measures to reduce upper respiratory infection in children. In infants, breastfeeding is the main way of reducing the chances of infection since it helps strengthen the immune system of the infant through the transfer of the protective antibodies in the mother’s milk to the baby Is (“Is Honey More Effective Than Cough Medicine?”, 2007). Older children could eat adequate meals and balanced diet, exercise regularly and even stay away from smoking. All the above measures improve the immune system and lower the overall risk of infection.
More preventative measures to lower the risk of spread of upper respiratory infection in children include regular hand washing, especially during the cold school periods, reducing contact with children who show symptoms of the infection, proper and regular cleaning of common objects in the school which may be touched by individuals who may be carrying the infection such as door handles and computers, and covering mouth when coughing or sneezing (Ian et al., 2007).
Most parents tend to diagnose and treat their children at home without seeking professional medical care. This is because a great majority of cases of upper respiratory infection in children is caused by viruses and are self-timed, that is they resolve spontaneously on their own. However, if symptoms either last more than two weeks, are severe and always worsening taking the child to the doctor is advisable. Treating the child with honey could also help as compared to over-the-counter medicine since most over-the-counter medicines have been found to have some adverse side effects on children. Some of these potentially dangerous effects in young children include having dystonic reactions, severe involuntary muscle contractions and spasms (“Honey Works Better than Cough Medicine”, 2007).