Common Colds

Common Colds

Here is an interesting fact:

Children younger than six years old have an average of six to eight common colds per year, which may equate to one cold each month for a portion of the year. So, when should parents seek medical assistance for their little ones, and what can they do at home to alleviate their symptoms?

The common cold, otherwise known as an acute upper respiratory infection, is caused by a virus. Common cold viruses are passed from one individual to another by:

  • A person touches their nose or eyes after touching a contaminated person or object.
  • A person breathes in droplets that became airborne after a person with the virus sneezed or coughed.
  • Such droplets land on another person’s eye or mouth area.

Therefore, those in close contact, such as family members, friends, or classmates, may pass these viruses to each other.

Symptoms of the common cold vary between babies and children and may include any or all of the following: fever, runny and/or stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, headache, intermittent fussiness, tiredness, decreased appetite, and sore throat. Babies may have difficulty feeding due to nasal congestion. Fever should resolve within a few days but other symptoms, such as cough, can last up to two weeks in duration, especially in children younger than six years old.

Did you know that in most cases, symptoms of the common cold can be treated safely at home? Since colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help. Treatment is what we call “supportive care”, AKA keeping your child well hydrated and as comfortable as possible. Common treatment methods include:

  • Encouraging fluids. If your baby is too congested for formula or breast milk, Pedialyte is a very temporary option to keep him or her hydrated.
  • Nasal saline mist or drops.
  • Nasal suction. For babies with nasal congestion, placing a couple of drops of saline in each nostril followed by using an infant nasal suction device can provide relief, especially prior to feedings.
  • Cool-mist humidifier.
  • Tylenol or Motrin for discomfort or fever. Please note: Motrin is only for babies six months or older.
  • In children over one year old, honey can be used as needed for cough.

Over the counter cough and cold medications should not be used in children under six years of age. They are not effective and can have harmful side effects. When your child coughs, their body is clearing potentially harmful secretions from their respiratory tract, and this is a good thing!

While most common colds can be dealt with safely at home, there are exceptions.

Please call your child’s doctor or seek medical assistance right away if:

  • Your baby is three months old or younger. Fever 100.4 F or higher needs prompt medical evaluation at this age.
  • You notice your child is having difficulty breathing or is working harder to breathe.
  • Your child is refusing fluids or is urinating less than three to four times in 24 hours.
  • There is a significant change in your child’s behavior.

Please call your child’s doctor for an appointment if they experience:

  • Fever 100.4 F or higher for greater than three days.
  • Nasal congestion worsens or does not show signs of improvement after 10 days.
  • Cough worsens or persists for greater than two weeks.
  • Ear pain, ear pulling, or eye discharge.

Even though your child is bound to get a cold at one point or another, good handwashing, avoiding contact with those who are ill, and getting vaccinated against viruses such as the flu and COVID-19 can help reduce your child’s chances of getting sick.

Article by: Victoria B. Branom, APRN 

References

Children and Colds. (n.d.). HealthyChildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Children-and-Colds.aspx

Pappas, D. (2022, April 5). The common cold in children: Clinical features and diagnosis [Review of The common cold in children: Clinical features and diagnosis].

UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com

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