Many parents with young children may feel like the frequent illnesses they bring home from school or daycare will never end. They might frantically ask their pediatricians, “Why is my child always sick?”
It’s very normal for kids to contract illnesses frequently as their immune systems build. Dr. Priya Mody, a pediatrician in CHOC Primary Care Network, answers parents’ frequently asked questions about why children are so susceptible to illness and what to do to help.
At what ages is it common for kids to be sick frequently?
Children under 7 years old have immature immune systems. Young children — especially those who may be attending school or daycare — are being exposed to new environments and new pathogens, or germs, that they haven’t experienced before.
At school or daycare, young kids may spread germs more easily because they don’t know how to cough or sneeze while covering their mouths. In addition, the upper airways of young children aren’t fully developed until they are of school age, which puts them at risk for more frequent viral and bacterial infections. Younger children also tend to put their hands in their mouths, so the germs they touch on surfaces will end up being ingested.
Because of these reasons, kids may develop illnesses frequently. Fortunately, this also means that they will develop a natural immunity to such illnesses.
How often do kids typically get sick?
School-age children and preteens average five or six illnesses annually; teens and adults may have two to three colds or illnesses per year.
Why do kids get sick so often?
Kids, especially young kids, are susceptible to illness due to their developing immune systems. Once they begin attending daycare or preschool, they will be exposed to many common childhood illnesses. Younger infants who have older siblings that are in school will also tend to get sick more frequently, since their siblings are bringing home germs.
Why do kids get back-to-back illnesses?
Many kids may be contracting back-to-back illnesses due to relaxed COVID-19 precautions. Lockdowns, social distancing and masks may have decreased your child’s exposure to common pathogens over the past two years. But now, your child may be coming into contact with many different pathogens at once.
It’s very common for your child to become ill with several viral illnesses shortly after beginning daycare or preschool, as they are being exposed to many different germs at once. And when your child’s immune system is fighting one illness, it may be more suspectable to pick up another virus that is circulating.
Should I be concerned that my child is getting sick too often?
For most children, frequent illness does not indicate an underlying problem like an immune deficiency. Immune deficiencies are typically tied with certain infections, as opposed to multiple colds or typical respiratory illnesses.
If your child is still growing well and is healthy and thriving, then they likely are not struggling with an underlying problem.
But if your child experiences any of the following, visit your health care provider:
- Catching colds or other viruses more than 12 times per year.
- Losing weight and not physically growing at a normal rate.
- Their infections do not seem to go away and are especially severe, requiring multiple hospitalizations and/or multiple rounds of antibiotics.
- Your family has a history of immune disorders.
At what times of the year is it more common for kids to get sick?
October to April is the typical cold and flu season due to weather and temperature changes, kids going back to school and more indoor activities where viruses can spread more easily.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been different infections popping up at different times — like the flu during May and June. Kids may contract colds and other bugs year-round.
Is there anything I can do to prevent my child from getting sick so often?
Although your child will likely get sick at school or daycare, there are some common practices that can help keep your kids as healthy as possible.
- Practicing proper handwashing. Teach your kids how to properly wash their hands frequently after using the restroom. As they get older, encourage them to wash their hands after blowing or touching their nose. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is unavailable.
- Stay up to date on vaccinations. Make sure your child has their influenza vaccine and COVID-19 vaccines to help prevent illness.
- Cover mouths while coughing. This can help prevent spread at school or daycare. Tell your kids to be like Dracula as they sneeze or cough in their elbow!
- Eat healthy meals and drink plenty of water. Make you’re your kids are getting the nutrition they need with a variety of meals and snacks full of fruits and vegetables so they can get the vitamins and minerals needed to help boost their immune systems.
- Sleep. Make sure your child is getting plenty of sleep to help them stay well and healthy.
For more health and wellness resources from the pediatric experts at CHOC, sign up for the Kids Health newsletter.
How to prevent and treat respiratory illnesses this season
Unfortunately, many kids get infected with respiratory illnesses in the fall and winter seasons. CHOC experts highly encourage all eligible members of households to receive their annual flu shots. Other preventative measures like good hygiene and staying home when sick can help protect families from illness. The following articles and guides provide more information.
From babies to teens, pediatricians from CHOC’s Primary Care Network partner with parents to offer immunizations, sick visits, sports physicals and more.