Common illnesses in babies: Understanding the most frequent reasons for hospital admissions

No parent can rest easy when their baby is sick, and the thought of it is distressing. Picture:Unsplash/Daniel Thomas

No parent can rest easy when their baby is sick, and the thought of it is distressing. Picture:Unsplash/Daniel Thomas

Published Aug 15, 2023


The worry and concern that parents and caregivers feel when their baby falls ill is unmatched.

While it’s always advised to consult with a paediatrician in such situations, it’s equally important to be aware of the common illnesses that can affect babies, as many of them can be treated with readily available medications.

No parent can rest easy when their baby is sick, and the thought of it is distressing. However, certain illnesses are so common during infancy that they almost become routine.

Respiratory issues, ear infections, and gastrointestinal problems like diarrhoea and vomiting are some of the common illnesses that babies often encounter.

If you have a young child or are expecting one, keeping your little one healthy is undoubtedly your top priority.

In honour of Child Health Month, Fedhealth medical aid scheme has compiled some of the most common reasons for children’s hospitalisations. Their comprehensive data analysis identified the most prevalent illnesses among South African children under the age of 13 based on hospital admissions over the past five years.

Although many of these illnesses can be managed with proper care and a visit to the doctor, some cases may require hospitalisation for more severe conditions.

Tonsils/adenoid procedures

Many of us had our tonsils out as children and the procedure is still common with this generation. There are a few different reasons your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy or adenoid procedure for your child, including recurring infections, as well as breathing or sleep disorders.

Intestinal infectious diseases

Extremely common in young children, gastrointestinal infections are when the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed, causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rotaviruses are the most common cause of diarrhoeal disease among infants and young children. Nearly every child in the world is infected with a rotavirus at least once by the age of five

Acute bronchitis

Bronchitis is when the large breathing tubes (bronchi) in the lungs become inflamed, causing symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, chest pain, chills, wheezing and even vomiting.

The illness can be short-term (referred to as ‘acute’) or long-term (referred to as ‘chronic’), and it is more prevalent in children with allergies, asthma, and sinusitis.

In many cases, it can be treated with medication, fluids and rest, but in severe cases, your child may require hospitalisation for more serious treatment.

Newborn complications

Bringing a new life into this world is not always without its complications for some parents. If your new baby is premature, has jaundice, has difficulty breathing or needs extra support, they’ll be able to get comprehensive attention if admitted to a hospital, from doctors and nurses who are specially trained in newborn care.


Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs, causing symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, a cough and chest pain.

It can be extremely serious – according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it accounts for 14% of all deaths of children under the age of 5.

There are two types of pneumonia: bacterial pneumonia (which can be treated with antibiotics) and viral pneumonia (which is usually not as severe but takes longer to recover from). In both cases, serious pneumonia may require your child to be hospitalised.

Ear infections

The most frequent kind of ear infection in babies is called otitis media. This is an infection behind the eardrum, in the middle ear. It may start with a cold and it can hurt a lot. Children with ear infections often fuss and cry, pull at their ears, and sleep poorly.

Ear infections are common in babies and young children. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the ear infection

Seizure disorders

Different types of seizures occur in children, depending on which part and how much of the brain is affected.

General symptoms or warning signs of a seizure can include staring, jerking movements of the arms and legs, stiffening of the body, loss of consciousness, breathing problems, confusion and rapid eye blinking.

Depending on the cause of the seizure, the doctor will prescribe medication that should help bring it under control, but they usually involve hospital admissions for further investigation and treatment.