Did you know that, on average, kids get 10-12 colds per year? A cold can be anything from a snotty nose for a day to a full-blown fever, aches, congestion, wheezing, or cough.
The cough from some colds can last up to 4 weeks. For my littlest one, this meant her first two winters pretty much involved about five snot free days! Here are some common questions parents ask me:
What is cold?
A cold is an upper respiratory infection caused by any number of viruses (over 200 different ones and counting).
It causes inflammation and swelling of the upper airways that can give you a fever, headache, muscle aches, congestion, cough, sneezing, sore throat, and sometimes trigger wheezing. Antibiotics kill bacteria only, so in this case, they will NOT help.
What is bronchiolitis?
Bronchiolitis is a cold (same viruses) that moves into infants and young children’s small airways. RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is most notorious for causing bronchiolitis in the winter, but again there are hundreds of viruses that cause the same symptoms.
The airways of infants are smaller than older kids or adults, so the mucus and swelling can cause significant difficulty breathing or feeding. Young infants, or children exposed to secondhand smoke, are often hospitalized with bronchiolitis if they have significant trouble breathing or get too dehydrated.
When should I seek medical attention?
If your child is having trouble breathing, wheezing, not drinking well, or has decreased wet diapers, you should call his doctor.
A fever lasting more than three days, severe headache or ear pain, could indicate secondary bacterial infection and should be evaluated as well. The color of his snot is not essential and tells you nothing.
How can I prevent them?
Wash your hands and stop touching your face. An average person feels their face over 5,000 times a day!
These are hard things to enforce for a young child, but if you get them to wash up before eating, you are doing better than most. It is beneficial for infants less than six months old to try to avoid being around others with snotty noses, fever, or cough.
You still want to get outside, but it is best to keep strangers and sick people from touching your child in cold and flu season. Most viruses are transmitted by direct contact only, but a few can be transmitted through the air a few feet away.
How do I treat a cold?
Grandma was right. Chicken noodle soup is still about the best thing we have. A study out of the University of Nebraska Medical Center showed some anti-inflammatory properties in chicken noodle soup.
It is not clear whether there is any noticeable reduction in cold symptoms, but it is a safe option. Most of us still need to rely on acetaminophen or ibuprofen for real anti-inflammatory effects and pain reduction.
Most important, you need to make sure your little one keeps drinking (and peeing). Saline drops and gentle bulb suctioning can help clear out little noses and make breastfeeding or drinking a little easier.
Over the counter, cold medicines are NOT useful for infants and toddlers, and they have too many potentially dangerous side effects. Honey can be a helpful cough suppressant to try once your child is over a year old. We used it so often for E’s second winter I was afraid her baby teeth might rot out! She slept better, so it was a risk I was willing to take.
Could it be allergies?
If your child is under two years old, the answer is usually no.
It takes multiple exposures to develop an allergic response to environmental allergens. For plants, grasses, and tree pollen, these exposures are seasonal so that an allergy would be uncommon before two years old. Indoor allergens can be present year-round, so these can develop sooner. If your child has a stuffy nose, watery or itchy eyes, frequent nose rubbing, snorting, or sneezing that doesn’t resolve in a few weeks, it could be an allergy. Mold, dust mites, pet dander or smoke, can be frequent culprits.
If you are concerned, then please talk to your child’s doctor.
Could it be a sinus infection?
Kid’s sinuses are not fully developed until they are teenagers. This makes sinus infections less common in young children. Even so, cold viruses cause swelling and inflammation of the upper airways, preventing even a child’s sinuses from draining well. This can cause bacteria to flourish in the sinuses. In this case, antibiotics are appropriate. A severe headache, cold symptoms that last over a week, fever lasting more than three days, fever with facial pressure, or swelling around the eyes can all be signs of a sinus infection.
Do you have any advice from grandma or home remedies that may have worked for your family? If you do, please share them. I would love to research them and share with you what I find.