Respiratory problems

Respiratory conditions can include a variety of problems such as colds, flu, runny noses and coughs.

Many different respiratory disorders require clinical care of a physician or other health care professional. Below are a few respiratory problems that may require medical attention.


Asthma is a long-term (chronic) lung disease that causes your airways to become sensitive to certain things (triggers). Several things happen to the airways when exposed to triggers:

All of these things will cause the airways to narrow. This makes it difficult for air to go in and out of your lungs and causes the symptoms of asthma.


Croup is a disease that causes swelling in the upper portion of the airway in the neck and problems breathing. Children with croup often have a high-pitched “creaking” or whistling sound when breathing in. This is called stridor.

Croup is most commonly caused by a virus. It is sometimes, but rarely, caused by bacteria, allergies, or reflux from the stomach. Viruses that are known to cause croup are:

Croup is spread through direct contact with a person, or fluids from another person who has the disease. The infection starts in the nose and throat and moves into the lungs. Swelling affects the area around the voice box (larynx) and into the windpipe (trachea).

Younger children are more affected by croup because their airways are smaller. Therefore, a small amount of swelling can make it really hard for an infant or small child to breathe.

Symptoms of croup are not always the same. As the disease moves from the nose to the lungs, the symptoms can change. Common symptoms of croup are:

Symptoms are often worse at night and wake the child from sleep. Symptoms also seem to improve in the morning but worsen as the day goes on. Most children improve in three to seven days. The symptoms of croup can be mistaken for other conditions and medical problems. Always see your child's provider for a diagnosis.

Cold or flu?

A cold and the flu (influenza) are two different illnesses. A cold is fairly harmless. It usually clears up by itself after a period of time. But it can sometimes lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection. The flu can also be harmless. But it may progress to a more complicated illness such as pneumonia. Sometimes it can even lead to death. What may seem like a cold may really be the flu. Be aware of these differences:

Cold symptoms Flu symptoms
Low or no fever High fever
Sometimes a headache Commonly a headache
Stuffy, runny nose Sometimes a stuffy nose
Sneezing Sometimes sneezing
Mild, hacking cough Cough, may progress
Slight aches and pains Often severe aches and pains
Mild fatigue Fatigue, may persist
Sore throat Sometimes a sore throat
Normal energy level Exhaustion
  • The lining around the airways swell.
  • The muscles around the airways tighten.
  • The airways make more thick mucus than normal.
    • Parainfluenza virus
    • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
    • Influenza virus
    • Adenovirus
    • Enteroviruses
    • Croup is most commonly seen in children 3 months old to 5 years.
    • The peak time for croup to occur is 2 years old.
    • Croup is seen more often in the winter.
    • A runny nose, a stuffy nose, and slight cough
    • A cough that turns into a "seal's bark"
    • Laryngitis (losing his or her voice)
    • Fever
    • Stridor


Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment includes finding triggers and ways to avoid them. It will also include medicines. Asthma medicines include:

  • Bronchodilators. These medicines are used to help open the narrowed airways. They may relieve coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines. These medicines help decrease the inflammation in the airways.
  • Anti-leukotrienes. These medicines help decrease the narrowing of the airways. These are usually given by mouth.
  • Immunotherapy. This can be used for severe asthma attacks in those age 12 and older.
See All Treatments

Symptoms and Screenings for Respiratory problems

Back to Overview

Causes and Preventions for Respiratory problems

Back to Overview

Education and Resources for Respiratory problems

Back to Overview

Support groups for Respiratory problems

Back to Overview

Learn More about Respiratory problems

Vidant Health can connect you to health care professionals to help you understand your condition and guide you through the treatment process. Let’s chat.

español »