Respiratory distress in children, especially in neonates and infants, must be treated quickly because illness in small children can become worse very quickly compared to adults. Respiratory arrest is the most common cause of cardiac arrest in children. The following are some common respiratory conditions treated in the emergency room and often requiring hospital admission.


Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by viruses or bacteria with symptoms of:

  • Fever
  • Coughing with mucus
  • Fast breathing with shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting or diarrhea

Sometimes chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, cancer or diabetes can make a child more likely to get pneumonia.


Is caused by a contagious virus, symptoms include:

  • A barking cough like a barking seal
  • A raspy, hoarse voice
  • Symptoms getting worse at night

Acute bronchitis and bronchiolitis

Acute bronchitis comes on quickly when the bronchial tubes become inflamed and irritated, swelling and producing mucus; it can be severe, especially if your child has asthma and may lead to pneumonia.

Bronchiolitis is a contagious infection of the small air passages in the lungs caused by a virus such as respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV.

Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath, with wheezing


If your child's asthma has not been diagnosed or is not well-controlled, there may be asthma flare-ups and it is important to get help in time. It is Important to see your physician if your child has these symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing, chest tightness or pain that can be mild to severe


Anaphylaxis is an emergency medical condition requiring immediate treatment. Call 911 right away. Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

Viral infections such as enterovirus

Some children have not developed immunity to this contagious viral respiratory infection and have more severe symptoms including rashes, difficulty breathing, fever or wheezing.

If your child is experiencing illness or injury contact your Main Line Health pediatrician. A dedicated pediatric emergency room and inpatient unit is located at Bryn Mawr Hospital. Emergency rooms are also located at Lankenau Medical Center, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.