The common cold is labeled “common” for good reason. According to the National Institute’s of Health, there are more than one billion colds in the United States each year and you and your children will probably have a cold more than any other type of illness. The common cold is caused by rhinovirus. There is no medication or vaccine to cure this virus, and cold medications do little to improve the symptoms. The average school age child may suffer from six to 10 colds in a single season. Given that a cold can last a week or more, this comes out to 70 days of illness in a single season. This leads many parents to express concern to me saying, “my child is always sick!”
Symptoms and prognosis
Cold symptoms usually start two or three days after a person comes into contact with the virus. They mostly affect the nose, but every child can demonstrate a different combination of indicators, including a low-grade fever that lasts one to three days, runny nose, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, sneezing and cough. A child also may have a sore throat or headache. The symptoms of the common cold are usually most troublesome for the first two to three days of the illness, but typically last a total of seven to 10 days. For younger children who have experienced few colds in their life to date, and therefore have less immunity, symptoms can linger longer.
To attend school or not to attend school? That is the question!
It is unreasonable to expect your child to be at home for the full duration of a cold. There are two major criteria in deciding whether your child should go to school: 1) Is your child feeling well enough to go to school and 2) is your child likely to spread illness to his or classmates or peers?
During the first few days, if your child is having fevers, he is the most contagious, and should be kept home, even if his energy level is good. If your child has no fever, but is extremely tired because he has been up all night coughing, keep your child home. Your child is not likely to have enough energy to learn and play effectively at school.
Reduce the chance for a cold to take hold
Rhinovirus is spread through contact with secretions from the nose, or from respiratory droplets spread during a cough or a sneeze. The virus can persist for several hours on the hands or other surfaces. There are a number of proactive measures your family can take to prevent spreading the virus around your household.
Good Hand Washing
How a child washes their hands is equally as important as how often. This practice should be done before each meal, after using the bathroom and more frequently when they are sick. A child needs to wet their hands, apply soap and scrub their hands together to create lather on both the fronts and backs of their hands, as well as between their fingers and around their nails. Hands should be rinsed and dried thoroughly.
The simple practice of covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough can go a long way to reduce the spread of infection. But there are even better ways to do it. Ideally, sneezing or coughing into a tissue and discarding the tissue right away is the best approach. Another safe alternative is to sneeze or cough into the elbow or upper arm. If a child sneezes or coughs into their hands, then washing their hands directly afterwards is very important.
Nourishment of Food and Sleep
A body that is not well rested or fed a balanced, nutritious diet is weakened to fighting off the common cold. It seems simple, but an overall diet of fruits and vegetables and starting each day with a healthy breakfast, gives your child’s body tools it needs to fight off infections. Drinking extra fluids is important when a child has a cold or any viral illness. A multivitamin is not a replacement for good nutrition, but may be a good addition to the diet of picky children.
Happy new school year!