The Common Cold and Your Child
A cold is an infection of the upper airways (nose, throat, and sinuses) caused by a virus. Close to 200 viruses exist, so healthy children may have up to 15 colds per year. Most children under age five have 6-8 colds per year. Cold symptoms last seven to fourteen days and most will go away by themselves.
A cold virus is spread from a sick person to others by sneezing or coughing or, more often, by contact with the hands or mouth. A cold virus can live on toys, phones, door knobs, tables, and other objects for up to three hours and transfer to a child's hands. The virus gets on a child's hands and is transferred to the nose, mouth, or eyes by normal face touching habits. Colds are not caused by being exposed to cold air or wind. Colds are more common in winter because people stay indoors and have more contact with each other.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cold
- red eyes
- sore throat
- slightly swollen glands (lymph nodes)
- runny nose (clear at first, then thicker and slightly colored)
- decreased appetite
- slight fever (100° – 102º F), most often in the evening
Call your nurse or doctor if your child has a cold and:
- is very sleepy or looks very ill.
- spikes a temperature of 104º F or higher. May want to check with a pediatrician on this as they use a lower level for newborns.
- has had a temperature of 101º F or more for 72 hours (3 days) or longer.
- your child's breathing is fast, labored, or difficult.
- a cough for longer than two weeks.
- yellow drainage from his eyes.
- a sore throat without a runny nose or cough.
- ear pain or sinus pain.
- your child appears dehydrated.
- dry lips or mouth
- decreased urination, less than 3 times in 24 hours
- no tears with crying,
- eyes appear sunken and dark
- soft spot on top of infant’s head is sunken.
- general weakness
Infants are more prone to dehydration because of their small size and because it is hard for them to eat when their nose is stuffy.
How to Prevent the Common Cold
Although you will not be able to prevent your child from catching colds, it is best to keep your child away from people who are ill, especially if your child is younger than three months old. Keep your young baby away from shopping centers, day care settings, churches and other places where there may be large numbers of people who may be ill.
There are other measures that may help prevent the spread of a cold virus.
- Wash your hands and your child’s hands often.
- Keep your child’s hands away from his nose and mouth.
- Dispose of used facial tissues right away.
- Teach your child to cover his nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.
- Use a cool mist humidifier in your child's room to prevent drying of mucous membranes. When mucous membranes become dry, they are more at risk for infection.
Large doses of vitamin C have not been shown to prevent or shorten colds and may cause diarrhea.
How to Treat the Common Cold
There is no cure for colds. Antibiotics have no effect because they work against bacteria not viruses. There are some things you can do that will help your child to feel better.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Raising the head of your child's bed or crib may help her to sleep better.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of fluids. Don't worry if your child doesn't want to eat solids.
- Use a cool mist humidifier in your child's room. Do not use warm or hot mist as it can cause burns and scalds in children. Clean the humidifier weekly with a mixture of bleach and water.
- Use a nasal bulb syringe for infants to clear the nose of mucus.
- If your child's nose is stuffed up but not dripping, use warm plain water or saline drops in the nose before using the bulb syringe. Saline drops can be made by adding 1/4 teaspoon salt to 8 ounces warm water. Use an eye dropper or clean cotton ball to drip 2-4 drops into your child’s nostrils. Let the drops stay in the nose for one minute and then use the bulb syringe. Repeat this process if needed. This is helpful in small babies before they eat because they breathe through their noses. When their noses are stuffed up, it becomes hard for them to breathe while they are sucking and drinking. This is also a good thing to do before your child goes to sleep. Fresh saline drops should be made daily.
Are Over the Counter Medicines Safe For my Child?
- The FDA strongly advises that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products should not be used for infants and children under 6 years of age. Studies have shown cough and cold products do not work well for children under six years of age, and may pose serious health risks. They also can be the cause of accidental poisoning in young children because they are colored and they taste good.
- If your child has discomfort from fever, acetaminophen (TylenolÒ) or Ibuprofen may be given. Do not give your child aspirin. If you decide to give your older child a cold medicine, be sure to read the label well. If the cold medicine contains acetaminophen, do not give your child extra TylenolÒ. Follow all dose guidelines with care; check with your clinic if unsure about doses.
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The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 11/11/2011
Copyright © 11/11/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5072
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