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What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is one way the body reacts to infection, injury, or other medical conditions.

What Are the Different Kinds of Inflammation?

Inflammation (in-fluh-MAY-shin) can be acute or chronic:

  • Acute inflammation lasts a few days and helps the body heal after an infection or injury.
  • Chronic inflammation happens if the illness or infection doesn't go away or if the body gets injured over and over again (for example, from tobacco smoke). Chronic inflammation last months to years and can lead to other medical problems.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Inflammation?

Symptoms of inflammation include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • pain
  • warmth
  • trouble using the area

For example, if a child skins his knee, inflammation causes the area to get red and swollen. It also causes pain in the knee, making it hard to use the knee normally.

Chronic inflammation can lead to other symptoms, such as tiredness and fever.

What Causes Inflammation?

Different things cause inflammation, including:

How Does Inflammation Happen?

The immune system's job is to fight germs and diseases. When an infection, injury, or other medical condition damages the body, the immune system brings healing cells to the area. These cells give off chemicals that make the blood vessels dilate (get bigger). This lets more blood get to the area, bringing more healing cells with it. The increased blood flow also causes redness and warmth. Some healing cells and fluid pass into the injured areas, leading to swelling there.

The chemicals also trigger nerves to send pain messages to the brain. This pain lets someone know to protect that area of the body so it can heal.

In vasculitis (vass-kyuh-LYE-tis), inflammation affects blood vessels. The walls of the blood vessels get damaged. This can make it hard for blood to get to the body's organs, such as the heart, lungs, intestines, and kidneys.

How Can Parents Help?

Inflammation is often part of the healing process. So it might not need treatment. If treatment is needed, your doctor may recommend:

  • resting an injured area
  • raising the area above the level of the heart to help with swelling
  • wrapping the area with a compression bandage to help with swelling
  • putting ice on the area to help with pain and swelling (put a towel between the ice and the skin)
  • medicine to help with pain, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • medicine to ease inflammation, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • medicine to treat an illness or infection
  • seeing a medical specialist for more treatment

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call the doctor if your child:

  • is not getting better after following the instructions for treatment
  • has a new or higher fever
  • has worsening redness, swelling, or pain
  • has pus coming from a wound
  • seems to be getting sicker

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date Reviewed: May 21, 2020

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