Script 26.3

Notes to broadcasters

Content:  Learn to tell the difference between simple coughs, colds, and pneumonia.  Pneumonia can be dangerous, and a child with pneumonia should see a health worker or doctor right away.


Everyone gets coughs and colds. Young children get more coughs and colds than older children. Most get better without special medicine. But sometimes colds turn into pneumonia, which can be dangerous. How can you tell the difference between a cold and pneumonia? How should you look after a child who has pneumonia? And is there anything you can do to help prevent it?

Coughs, colds, and pneumonia are all infections of the respiratory tract, which is the part of the body used for breathing. Infections are illnesses caused by germs. Acute infections, such as coughs, colds, and pneumonia, happen suddenly and last a short time.

A cough or cold is usually nothing to worry about. A child with a cold will have a runny or blocked nose, a cough, and maybe a sore throat. Sometimes a child with a cold will feel ill and tired and will not want to eat.

Colds cannot be cured with medicine, but they go away more quickly if the rest of the body is strong and healthy. Babies and children usually recover from colds in a few days. You can help by keeping them comfortable. Keep them warm if they are cold, or cool if they are hot. Give them plenty of soothing drinks. Encourage them to eat by offering them small quantities of food more often than at their regular mealtimes. Wipe their noses, but teach them not to blow their noses, since that can cause earaches.

Smoke from cooking and tobacco makes colds worse because it irritates the throat, so try to keep the air around a child with a cold or cough clean and smoke-free. Smoke also makes a cold more likely to turn into pneumonia.

Unlike a simple cold, pneumonia can and should be treated with medicine. So it is important to be able to tell the difference between a cold and pneumonia. You should take a child with pneumonia to a doctor or health worker without delay.

One sign of pneumonia is a high fever. Another sure sign is quick breathing. A healthy baby, lying still and not crying, takes about 30 breaths a minute. But a baby with pneumonia, lying quietly, takes more than 50 breaths a minute–sometimes 70 or 80. Quick breathing, that is, more than 50 breaths a minute, usually means pneumonia. So the best way to tell whether a child has pneumonia is by counting breaths.

How do you count breaths? All children breathe quickly at times, especially when they run, cry, or move about a lot. Quick breathing caused by running, crying, or a lot of activity is not a sign of pneumonia. So you should not count breaths when a child has been restless, crying, or struggling. Count breaths only when a child is sleeping or resting quietly. Watch the chest without disturbing the child.

Count the number of breathing movements for one minute. Fifty breaths or more in one minute can mean pneumonia. Mothers usually know when their babies are breathing too fast, even without a watch. If you have no watch, look carefully and decide whether the breathing is too quick.If you think the breathing is too quick, take the child to a doctor or health worker right away. Antibiotic medicine can cure pneumonia, but it works best if it is started early. It must be given by a doctor or health worker, and you must follow their instructions carefully.

Pneumonia can develop from a cold, or follow after measles or whooping cough. It can also start on its own. Anyone can get pneumonia, but babies under one year are more likely to get it than older children. Old people get pneumonia more easily than other adults. Children in homes where people smoke, or where there is cooking smoke, are also more likely to get pneumonia. Babies who are breastfed and children who eat a healthy diet are less likely to get pneumonia. And since both measles and whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, immunization for these diseases helps prevent pneumonia.

Mild colds are an ordinary part of most children’s lives. But pneumonia can be dangerous. Learn to tell the difference between a cold and pneumonia by counting the number of breaths a child takes in a minute. Quick breathing probably means pneumonia. You should take a child with pneumonia to a doctor or health worker right away.


This script is primarily adapted from Child-to-Child Activity Sheet 6.7, published by Child-to-Child, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London, ENGLAND WC1H 0Al.

Information Sources

“Fighting Acute Respiratory Infections,” The World of Health radio information programme transcript, December 1991, distributed by the World Health Organization, 1211 Geneva 27 SWITZERLAND.

King, Maurice, Felicity King and Soebagio Martodipoero, Primary Child Care: A manual for health workers, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.