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Four-Year-Old Is Frequently Sick
Q: My four-year-old son seems to be sick all the time. He has a cold every few weeks, and gets ear infections two or three times a year. Is this normal?
A: It may be normal, assuming that your son has no other medical problems and is growing and developing normally. Children this age often get 6-12 cold and other viral illnesses per year. Children who have young siblings, are in day care/school, or who are routinely exposed to cigarette smoke in their house tend to get more. When you also take into account the fact that we get more colds in the winter than in the summer, a child could have a new cold every three weeks from December through March, and still fall into the normal range. To make matters worse, since many colds last from 7-10 days, it may really seem as if your child is sick all the time!
It is reassuring if your child has a period of being well between each episode and if he is not having any complications from his colds, like ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia, or asthma.
Ear infections are very common and often occur with or after a cold. Boys get them more often than girls do, and over 75 percent of all children have at least one. Two or three ear infections a year is not an excessive number, and they usually become less frequent as children get older. Assuming your child is having uncomplicated ear infections that resolve readily with appropriate treatment, I would not be alarmed.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.