It's that time of year again when children seem to keep catching
colds. Sometimes the winter months can feel like one long
The cold virus is everywhere, so it's impossible to say, but
there are some very good suspects. At the top of the list are the
child's own hands. A child touches an infected person or something
that an infected person has touched and then touches her own nose,
mouth or eyes.
That's all it takes and 12 hours to five days later, the
Almost anything can carry the germ for a brief time. A doorknob,
a grocery cart, a toy, money, a library book, the girl next door, a
shared bicycle ... the list is endless, but the key is that the
virus must reach the child's nose, mouth or eyes.
How to help
Once a child has a cold, dealing with the symptoms can be
tricky. Colds are caused by viruses, which means they can't be
treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics only treat bacterial
infections. Thankfully, colds are harmless and they always go away
in time, but they make a child miserable with cough, runny nose,
fever and sore throat.
It's tempting to reach for over-the-counter remedies, but
depending on the child's age, they simply don't work and might be
dangerous. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration stated that
over-the-counter cough and cold products should not be used for
infants and children under 2 because serious and potentially
life-threatening side effects can occur.
In fact, these medicines have never been proven effective in
children under 6, so most pediatricians don't recommend them.
Some of the greatest confusion is caused by the "multi-symptom
cold relievers" that contain medications with long, complicated
names like dextromethorphan, guaifenecin, and phenylephrine. It's
easy for parents accidentally to give the child an overdose by
using several of these products together.
Cold symptoms are annoying, but bringing down the fever can make
a child feel much better. Fortunately, ibuprofen, the active
ingredient in Motrin and Advil, and acetaminophen, the active
ingredient in Tylenol, are effective fever reducers and pain
relievers and are safe and effective in children and infants.
Last year the manufacturers of Tylenol and generic acetaminophen
simplified the way they sell the drug by eliminating the "infant
drops." Parents who still have some infant drops in their medicine
cabinets should be sure to let their doctor know so the recommended
dose can be adjusted.
During a cold, plenty of fluids can help loosen mucus and keep a
child hydrated. For young children, saline nasal drops and gently
suctioning mucus from the nose with a bulb syringe can help.
Parents should notify their child's doctor if cold symptoms do not
improve or get worse.
Overall, the best treatment for a common cold is rest, fluids
and lots of TLC.
Editor's note: This is not medical advice. See a doctor for
your specific health concerns.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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