hsg common cold oct 682x408

CARE

A parent's guide to the common cold

You are probably not imagining it if it seems like your little one has a runny nose all winter long. That's because colds, or upper respiratory infections, are the most common illnesses children get. On average, a child gets six to eight colds a year, and younger children and those who attend child care may catch a cold more often. Although colds can occur any time of the year, they peak during fall and winter.  

Colds are caused by several different viruses, and they spread through direct contact with a person who has a cold or through droplets in the air—like when someone sneezes or coughs nearby.  

Cold symptoms in kids

Most children who have a cold are stuffed up with a runny nose and a cough. Snot can be a variety of different colors without need to worry: clear, yellow or green. Sometimes a fever (defined as 100.4 F or higher) comes along with a cold during the first few days, but not always. Sore throat, fussiness, difficulty sleeping and decreased appetite are also common. Symptoms can worsen over the first several days, usually peak by day three to five, and then gradually start to resolve.

Treatment

Since colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria, antibiotics are not helpful and can be harmful for little ones. I don't recommend over-the-counter cough and cold medications for children under the age of 6. They are not proven to be effective, and they can have dangerous side effects, especially in young children. The best thing you can do is be there for your child as his or her body fights off the infection.

Try these to help your little one feel better: 

  • Nasal suction is the best thing you can do to help babies with runny noses and congestion. Babies only know how to breathe through their noses, so they can have a hard time breathing if it's plugged. Saline spray can help loosen up mucous. Older children can also benefit from saline spray if they are stuffed up.
  • Honey may help to soothe a cough for children older than 12 months.
  • Use a humidifier in the bedroom.
  • Encourage fluids. It's OK if your child is not eating much, but hydration is important. Try giving small amounts of fluid frequently.
  • You can use acetaminophen (Tylenol) for little ones over 3 months old who are uncomfortable from a fever, and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) for those older than 6 months. Alert your provider right away if your child is under 3 months old and has a fever.

When to be concerned

Most colds improve in 10 to 14 days. Complications such as an ear infection, pneumonia, dehydration, sinusitis or an asthma flare-up can sometimes occur. Contact your provider if your child: 

  • Has a fever for more than three days (call your provider if your child is less than 3 months old with a fever of 100.4 F).
  • Has signs of an ear infection by pulling on ears or is more fussy.
  • Isn't drinking enough to urinate normally.
  • Is increasingly irritable or lethargic.
  • Seems to be having difficulty breathing or rapid breathing.
  • Has no improvement or worsening symptoms over the course of 14 days. 

Seek immediate care in an emergency room or call 911 if you have significant concerns about how your child is acting or breathing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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