As you are getting ready for work, your child shuffles in complaining, “I don’t feel good.” You rush your child into the pediatric office. Your pediatric nurse practitioner tells you, “It’s just a common cold. Colds are one of the most frequent reasons that children miss school. Young children can get as many as 8 to 10 each year.”
What is a cold?
A cold, or upper respiratory illness (URI) is a viral illness with symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, cough, watery eyes, and headache. There may be a fever for the first two or three days of the illness. The nasal discharge begins clear and may change in color throughout the illness.
What causes a cold?
There are more than 200 viruses that cause the common cold (rhinoviruses being the most common), which is why it is possible to get more than one cold each year. You can catch a cold by being exposed to someone with a cold. Colds are much more common during fall and winter. Those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for catching a cold, as are infants and children. Kids who attend daycare have more colds; however, those who catch a cold become immune, so they will get fewer colds as they get older.
How does the body fight a cold?
The body works by viewing the cold virus as a foreign invader. It may elevate the temperature to burn it out or sneeze and cough to spray it out. It takes the body about seven to ten days to produce the necessary antibodies to fight the particular cold virus—hence that’s how long a cold usually lasts. Once the body has developed antibodies against a certain cold virus, then the body recognizes it if exposure occurs again and can attack it before illness occurs. This is why you don’t get the same virus over and over and why, as children age, they will get fewer colds.
When should I seek medical care for my child?
If your child’s cold lasts more than seven to ten days, or if she has a fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees) for more than three days, seek medical care. Any infant less than 30 days of age with a temperature over 100.4 degrees requires immediate medical evaluation. A fever that begins later in the illness would also be concerning. Children with asthma or poor immune systems are at a higher risk of complications. Sometimes illnesses will start as a cold and turn into a more serious infection, such as sinusitis, ear infection, or pneumonia. If your child is worsening or not improving, see your pediatric healthcare provider.
What can I do to comfort my child?
Frequent fluids are helpful, so keep your child drinking. Things that melt into liquids, like popsicles or jello, count as liquids. It’s common for children with a cold to have less appetite, but offer some soup or a favorite food for comfort. Humidification can ease nasal symptoms, but clean your humidifier routinely. Honey has been found to be soothing for sore throat and cough. Honey is approved in children over one year of age. NO honey may be given to infants less than one year of age due to the risk of infant botulism. A warm blanket and a good movie are comforting as well.
What medicine can I give?
Most colds will get better on their own without any medication. Antibiotics do not work for colds since they are caused by viruses rather than bacteria. Children’s acetaminophen is helpful for pain or fever. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO cough or cold medications for children under the age of four years. Unfortunately, there have been injuries and deaths in young children who took cough and cold medicines. Infants less than a year of age should receive no medication other than what is recommended by your healthcare provider, which may include infant acetaminophen. Again, most colds will get better on their own without any medication.
How can I prevent my child from getting a cold?
Handwashing is the best way to prevent colds. Wash your child’s hands often (for 20 seconds) with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, you may use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid crowds and close contact with people who are ill. Folks with colds should be encouraged to stay home to avoid spreading the disease. Teach children to cough and sneeze into their elbow. Avoid the cold. Have a healthy January!
Find more information at www.cdc.gov/dotw/common-cold/index.html
Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Pediatric Specialists in Norfolk, as well as a lecturer at ODU. Her first book, Raising Today’s Baby, is available on Amazon.com or at RaisingTodaysChild.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RaisingTodaysChild and twitter at www.twitter.com/Rzn2dayschild