The ‘common cold’ is caused by viruses (germs) that infect the nose, throat and sinuses. Colds are most common in the fall and winter when people are indoors and in close contact with each other.
It may seem like your child has one cold after another all winter. Young children have not built up immunity to the more than 100 different cold viruses that are around. That is why they can get as many as 8 to 10 colds each year before they turn 2 years old. Once you have had a cold virus, you become immune to that specific germ. That’s why children get fewer colds as they get older.
How do I know if my child has a cold?
Typical cold symptoms include:
- runny or stuffed-up nose and sneezing,
- mild sore throat,
- loss of appetite,
- fatigue (being tired), and
- mild fever.
The influenza (flu) virus causes high fever, cough and body aches. It strikes more quickly than a cold and makes people feel worse. Children with colds usually have energy to play and keep up their daily routines. Children with the flu are usually in bed.
When should I call my doctor?
Babies under 3 months of age can find it hard to breathe through a stuffed-up nose, which can make feeding difficult. Call your doctor to make an appointment or take your baby to an emergency department if your baby:
- is having trouble breathing,
- is not eating or is vomiting, or
- has a fever (rectal temperature of 38.5°C or higher).
Some respiratory viruses that cause colds in older children and adults may cause more serious illness in babies and toddlers. These illnesses include croup (hoarseness, noisy breathing, barking cough), pneumonia (lung infection), bronchiolitis (wheezing, trouble breathing), or sore eyes, sore throat and neck gland swelling. Children with these conditions need to be seen by a doctor.
What can I do if my child has a cold?
There is no cure for the common cold. Colds usually last about 1 week but can continue for as long as 2 weeks. They usually go away on their own. Keep your child as comfortable as possible. Offer plenty of fluids and small, nutritious meals.
Antibiotics will not help get rid of a cold. Antibiotics should be used only when children develop more serious illness caused by bacteria, such as an ear infection or pneumonia.
How can I prevent a cold?
- Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or wiping your nose.
- Wash your hands after being in contact with someone who has a cold.
- Wash your own hands and your child’s hands after wiping your child’s nose.
- When water and soap are not available, use pre-moistened hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Keep wipes and hand sanitizers out of your child’s reach because they may be harmful if swallowed.
- Keep babies under 3 months old away from people with colds, if possible.
- Teach your children to cover their nose and mouth with tissues when they sneeze or cough, or to cough into their upper sleeve or elbow.
- Avoid sharing toys that young children place in their mouths until they have been cleaned.
- Avoid sharing cups, utensils or towels with others until they have been cleaned.
- If your child attends day-care, tell the caregiver about any symptoms and ask if your child should stay home that day.
Make sure your child receives all of the recommended immunizations. While vaccines won’t prevent colds, they will help prevent some of the complications, such as bacterial infections of the ears or lungs. Influenza (flu) vaccine protects against the flu but not against other respiratory viruses.
This article was first published on Caring for Kids