Bristol, UK—Parents frequently express concern that their child’s respiratory illness is lasting too long and often ask pharmacists for advice.

A new study in Annals of Family Medicine provides some valuable information that can be shared. UK researchers report that symptoms of children’s respiratory tract infections (RTI), including runny nose, dry cough, and sore throat, can last much longer than expected.

In fact, the University of Bristol study reports that full cessation of symptoms can take 23 days for 90% of children with RTI.

To reach that conclusion, researchers developed an online initiative to follow 485 children in 331 families in Bristol, England, who fell ill with RTI. Participants, who had 197 RTI overall, were not required to visit their family physician. For each child, one parent completed baseline data and symptom diaries and agreed to medical-record review.

Median duration of symptoms was 9 days overall but varied by age; for children age 3 years or younger, median symptom duration was 11 days versus 7 days for older children. 

At the same time, children whose parents reported lower respiratory tract symptoms such as wet cough and wheeze had median symptom duration of 12 days compared to 8 days for those who had only upper respiratory tract symptoms such as runny nose and sore throat. 

Children with only upper respiratory tract symptoms were most likely to have runny noses, and for them the fastest symptom to resolve was earache, the study notes. For children with at least one lower respiratory tract symptom, runny nose and wet cough were the most severe; however, all symptoms persisted for 3 weeks. 

One in 12 of the children was taken to a family physician for treatment. In addition, about a third of the parents said they purchased medications to treat their child’s illness.

“Parents can be advised that RTI symptoms last up to three weeks,” study authors point out, adding that policy makers should be aware that parents may seek primary care support in at least one in 12 illnesses.
 « Click here to return to Weekly News Update.