If you thought cough and cold season was a pediatrician’s busiest times, you were right. Although we know fall and winter seasons are when children most often fall ill, if you’ve ever been a parent or taken care of a child, you know symptoms of the common cold can actually happen at any time during the year. As both a pediatrician and a mother, I know what is at the top of all our minds: how do I make my child comfortable and how do I know when it’s more than just the common cold?
I can’t examine your child and give specific answers for every cough and cold out there through this blog post. That’s what a doctor’s visit, history, and physical exam are for...but I can answer the most common questions I often get and explain what we as pedaitricians are the most concerned about.
First off, it’s important to know what is a “cold?”
The common cold is caused by a variety of viruses-rhinovirus, coronavirus, and adenovirus are some of the most common. However, there are multiple other viruses out there, and viruses can easily mutate so although your body can develop immunity to one strain, you might get another strain of a virus that essentially cause similar symptoms next time.
You don’t need me to explain the most common symptoms of a cold, but know that it’s very normal for children to get 8-12 colds a year. Each cold can last 3-7 days. Imagine that child is in daycare and that number easily becomes 12-15 colds a year. Do the math and you’ll realize that’s a lot of days out of the year where your child has persistent cough and sniffles. However, when do you know if there’s something more going on?
We pediatricians are happy to counsel you on what to watch out for. Personally, I like knowing about how the fevers and symptoms are looking-improving, worsening, stable, how hydrated the child is, and the overall activity level. Anytime a parent is concerned, I will always advocate for the child to be brought in to be examined. Parental intuition is a great super power, in my opinion.
What can you do to help?
Super powers are awesome, but as a parent, I really do understand the frustration of watching your child tough out the cold symptoms. Of course, we want our kids to be comfortable. There are some great measures you can do at home.
Saline nasal spray is an amazing natural and effective tool. A few drops can loosen mucous and help to clear the passage ways without you having to stick anything up those small nostrils!
Suctioning (but go easy!) can work well with saline. However, too much bulb syringe or suctioning can cause some trauma into those small nostrils and actually increase swelling! So while helpful, try not to overdo it.
Fluids are so important in pediatrics. Keeping your child hydrated throughout illness can be so beneficial. If your child is not able to drink due to difficulty getting air in, contact your physician ASAP as this is a warning sign that your child is unable to move air easily. (This is more of a concern we see in young children and toddlers as older children are usually able to verbalize these concerns early on.) Warm drinks like tea with honey can be very beneficial for soothing sore throats. Plus the steam helps open nasal passages. If your child doesn’t like tea, you can also do warm cocoa. Honey shouldn’t be used in children under 1 year of age, but for older children, some studies show honey can work very well, plus it has no adverse side effects like over the counter cold medications have. Soup really is good for the soul and a cold! Salty broth helps with hydration and the warm fluid definitely soothes the throat!
Heating packs can be a huge hit during a cold. Sure, they don’t help the throat heal faster or make the body get over the virus quicker, but they can be a great source of comfort in addition to cuddles with mom and dad.
What can you do to keep these viruses away?
Unfortunately, even with the absolute best hygiene practices, you can expect to get colds. Studies show that objects with mucous left to dry for 24 hours, shows that there is a 1/3rd chance of catching those germs. Those germs will only translate into you getting a cold is by touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. So the best prevention from getting a cold is washing hands and keeping those hands off of their faces.
Why not cough and cold medicines?
Studies have shown cough and cold products are ineffective in treating symptoms of children under 6 years old and may pose serious risks. A variety of rare, serious health problems have been associated with use of these medications in children, including death, convulsions, rapid heart rates and decreased levels of consciousness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory that strongly advises against giving these medications to infants and children under 2 years of age because of these life-threatening side effects. Children metabolize and react to medications differently than adults. The medications we prescribe children have been heavily studied and doses monitored for safety. The cough and cold medications have not gone through these same rigors as the side effects are so dangerous for this age. The AAP supports this recommendation and instead recommends the safer alternatives mentioned above. You can also provide your child with Tylenol or Motrin if your pediatrician recommends it to provide comfort and ease pain.
I hope this helps answer some of parents questions in regards to what can be done for the common cold. We know coughs and colds are going to happen, but as a pediatrician, I want to do my best to equip you with tips to keep them at bay or at least keep your little ones comfortable at home!