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I’m a Pediatrician Mom & Here’s Why Your Kid Is Always Sick

If you’re feeling like your kid is always sick, I’m here to tell you you are not alone. Every day I hear from frustrated parents that their child has been coughing, or has had a runny nose for what feels like ever, no one can get a good night’s sleep, and there surely must be something wrong. As bothersome as the whole thing is, getting sick frequently is not always a reason for concern.  

How many colds per year is normal for kids?

Young kids — toddlers and kids in preschool — can have as many as 8 to 12 respiratory infections or stomach bugs per year. As kids get older and enter school, that number goes to 5 or 6 illnesses every year, until the teenage and adult years when it’s common to get 2 to 3 colds every year. 

For young kids in particular, it’s common for colds to come with fevers, cough, and runny nose or congestion. The fevers tend to resolve first, followed by the congestion or runny nose, and lastly by the cough. During the peak of respiratory virus season, it’s common for a child to catch a second cold while still having a lingering cough from the first, which to tired, sleep-deprived parents, can certainly feel as though the illness has lasted forever. 

But back-to-back illnesses are not always a sign of concern, and may instead be a reflection of the season and the environment.

Why does my child get sick so often? 

We all get sick more often in the winter, and that’s because we tend to spend more time inside with others, often with closed windows to stay warm. The proximity with others creates the perfect breeding ground for different viruses. There are, however, viruses known to circulate more commonly in the summer — like the virus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease — but in general, kids tend to get sick less often in summer. 

Just like adults, kids can also get sick more frequently if they are stressed, if they are not getting enough sleep, or if they are not eating well. In addition, children who are in daycare are known to get sick more often. 

How can I prevent my child from getting sick so often?

When it comes to preventing illnesses, it’s important to go back to the basics. Adequate sleep, nutrition, and getting outside have all been shown to help the immune system fight infections. Toddlers need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep per day, preschool children between 10 and 13, school age kids need 9 to 12 hours, and teens need 8 to 10. In addition, a diet rich in vitamins and minerals — which are best obtained through foods like berries, leafy green vegetables, and nuts and seeds — can go a long way. 

The basics also include staying up to date with routine immunizations

When should I worry? 

While getting sick more often than average is not necessarily a red flag, there are a few instances that do merit a discussion with your pediatrician. Those include getting repeat bacterial infections, such as ear infections, pneumonia, or urinary tract infections, as well as requiring frequent treatments or interventions when sick. If your child requires treatment in the office or in the ER when sick, discuss with your pediatrician whether an underlying condition could be making them prone to more serious illnesses.

Editor’s note: Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a practicing pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a contributing editor to SheKnows, and a mom to an active toddler.

Before you go, shop our top cold-relieving products for kids:


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