It is quite common for children to suffer from bouts of respiratory tract infections (RTI), ranging from a common cold to even bronchitis. Respiratory infections are usually caused by viruses and can cause upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) or lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs), depending on which part of the respiratory tract gets affected.

A child suffering from respiratory infection might develop symptoms like nasal congestion, cough, sneezing, sore throat, and runny nose. Children may also have a headache and fever.

How do you treat respiratory tract infections in children?

It is important to treat your child's respiratory infections as soon as possible, as neglecting them will only increase their severity. You should consult your child's doctor and not try medications on your own.

Apart from medicines that your paediatrician might prescribe, the right kind of nutrition can help your child prevent and recover faster from respiratory tract infections. It has been seen that children who consume high sugar foods, processed foods or are picky eaters are more prone to respiratory tract infections. Therefore, nutrition and diet are important in boosting, regulating and maintaining your child's immunity and its response to any infection.

Ensuring that your child eats a nutritious meal during illness can become a challenge as the taste buds get affected and he or she might not have a good appetite. As a result, your child might tend to eat lesser than usual, thereby depleting the existing store of nutrients even more. This can, in turn, affect the robustness with which the immune system responds to the infection.

Nutritional considerations during respiratory infections in children

Some of the important nutrients that help your child fight respiratory infections are listed below. Try and include these in your child’s normal diet and when he is down with a respiratory infection.

  • Zinc prevents the growth and proliferation of respiratory viruses and plays a role in amplifying your child's immunity. Zinc is also helpful in relieving nasal congestion and blockages and eventually, enables your child to obtain faster relief from colds and coughs. Chicken, nuts and seeds (like pumpkin, sunflower), eggs, pulses like chickpeas and milk are good sources of zinc.
  • Supplementation of your child's diet with ample quantities of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) can help in the early remission of respiratory infections. Moreover, it will be a good habit to incorporate these fatty acids into your child's daily diet as they keep such ailments at bay. Walnuts, seafood like mackerel, cod liver oil, chia and flax seeds are food sources of omega 3 fatty acids that your child can benefit from.
  • Vitamin D supplementation is essential to combat infections of the upper respiratory tract. So even if your child has a cold, ensure he or she get at least 20-25 mins of sun.
  • Vitamin C is also essential in the management of colds, coughs and other respiratory ailments. Citrus fruits are some of the richest sources of vitamin C, however many Indian mothers avoid giving these when their child has a cold believing that it might aggravate it. So look out for non-citrus sources of vitamin C like papaya, amla, strawberries, red capsicum, broccoli and tomatoes.

Diet during a respiratory infection:

  • Give your child ample water to drink. Water helps in maintaining hydration and replace losses that may occur from a runny nose. Providing hot and nourishing soups like chicken soup or dal and tomato soups can provide much required micronutrients to boost the immune system.
  • Provide food items that your child is fond of, and in small quantities. Frequent small meals are easier to feed especially when you child is cranky and is better digested. Avoid rich, fried, fatty foods and include dishes made of simple starches such as rice and even pasta as these are easy on the stomach. Providing frequent small meals throughout the day helps meet energy requirements as well.
  • Foods that can be eaten without effort and easily digested are rice with curd or khichdi or chapathis soaked in dal and vegetables. You can even provide a smoothie blended with their favourite fruit with a spoonful of chia or flax seeds.
  • Herbal teas made with ginger and basil or peppermint are also very good for this condition. Breathing in the steam from herbal teas will also help relieve the mucus build up in the nose and airways.
  • Adding a pinch of turmeric to warm water or hot milk can also help relieve your child's cold, cough and simple respiratory symptoms. It is important to remember that turmeric is an excellent antiseptic and possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Honey can be given to your child when he or she suffers from respiratory infections as it is rich in antimicrobials, which help fight infections.

Respiratory infections can be triggered by cold weather, pollen, pollution, allergens or several other factors. They are inevitable in children, but can be managed with medication and most importantly a well-balanced nourishing diet, to boost and maintain immunity and prevent infection.