Colds are caused by a viral infection of
the body. There are a great number of such viruses--probably
several hundred different varieties. Immunity to these viruses
develops as the child is infected with them. As a child
gets older, colds then become less frequent. Infants and
young children may seem to have a cold almost constantly
in the spring, fall, and winter months. Actually, they are
infected by a number of separate viruses in succession.
These infections are passed by direct contact and caused
by being close to a person who has a cold, or is carrying
the cold virus, in a crowded, poorly ventilated room. Exposure
to cold weather, wearing insufficient clothing, and having
wet feet do not cause a cold.
The common cold is a frequent infection of the young child
involving the nose, throat, upper breathing passageways
and eyes. It
characteristically begins with sneezing and stuffy nose,
with red, watery eyes, frequently progressing to cough.
You may hear a "rattling" or a vibration can be felt in
the upper airway down to the chest. The throat feels full
and raw, swallowing is difficult, particularly in babies
who cannot breathe through their noses while sucking, requiring
your assistance. Appetite and activity may diminish at the
onset of the cold and should resume a few days into the
cold. Fever may or not be present. Headache and body-aches
are common at the onset as well.
There is no cure for the common cold. Generally,
colds last between 10-14 days regardless of whether they
are treated or not. Treatment of a cold should have the
goal of making the child more comfortable and preventing
further complications or the spread to other family members.
Staying at home and resting quietly in the early stages
will lessen coughing and runny nose as well as prevent the
spread to others, and is always recommended. Increasing
the intake of clear fluids will ease throat discomfort and
keep secretions moist. Avoid medications if possible, especially
multi-symptom medications. If you are using medications,
treat only the symptoms the child has. Rather than spraying
or dropping medicine in the nose, decongestants are best
taken by mouth. They should be used intermittently at sleeping
or feeding times. Remember that they will not cure or prevent
colds, but merely make the child more comfortable. Infants
less than 6 months of age can be given Normal Saline (salt
water) nose drops off and on to relieve the stuffy nose
and to liquefy throat secretions which may have thickened
and collected. Follow this with the use of a bulb syringe
to pull out liquefied secretions. These drops should be
used before meals and at bedtime and naptime. The use of
medications commonly used to treat the common cold in children
less than 6 months of age should not be used without a discussion
with your health care provider. A vaporizer or preferably
a cold humidifier is effective in relieving stuffy noses
and coughing, while the child is sleeping. You should elevate
the head of the bed for the child. For infants, the crib
mattress can be adjusted so that the head is slightly higher
or you can put a pillow, etc., under the head of the mattress.
For an older child, a pillow or folded blanket under the
head of the mattress will do very nicely, or, if the child
normally uses a pillow, give them an extra one or two pillows.
Mentholated rubs are of little value, may be irritating
to the skin, and are not recommended. However, they are
widely used, and may be recommended by your family and friends.
Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen may be used for treating fever
and for relieving pain and discomfort. NEVER
USE ASPIRIN OR ASPIRIN CONTAINING PRODUCTS FOR CHILDREN
WHEN THEY ARE ILL. These medications have been found
to be a factor in the presentation of REYES SYNDROME
in children up to the age of young adulthood. School age
children ideally may return to school when symptoms have
subsided enough for children to feel like participating
in school activities. Fever should be gone (for 24 hrs.)
and coughing subsided.
THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF THE COLD
VIRUS IS GOOD HAND WASHING. PUTTING DROPLETS OF SALIVA,
ETC., IN THE AIR SHOULD BE PREVENTED BY USING TISSUES TO
COVER YOUR NOSE AND MOUTH WHEN SNEEZING AND COUGHING, AND
PROPERLY DISPOSING OF THEM.
AND SYMPTOMS OF MORE SERIOUS ILLNESS:
particularly if accompanied by fever which persists
more than a few hours.
2. Severe sore throat accompanied by persistent
3. Rapid (more than 40 breaths per minute) or labored
respiration's with or without fever.
4. Extreme lethargy, complete loss of appetite
for a longer period of time.
5. Pallor and cold sweats.
Your health care provider should be contacted
if the above symptoms develop or if you have any question
regarding the seriousness of your child's illness.
At present, there is no effective shot to provide immunity
The "flu shots" currently available are not recommended
for normal healthy children and provide immunity for a small
group of viruses thought to be more prevalent in a given
year, but not the "common cold". Hopefully, such
immunization will be available in the future. There is no
vitamin (including vitamin C, even in large doses) which
increases resistance to colds or hastens recovery. Fresh
air (even in winter), exercise, proper diet and rest --
avoiding crowds and following the rules of personal hygiene
will aid the natural immune mechanisms in preventing colds.
The use of antibiotics will not change or decrease the
symptoms or the length of the common cold. In fact,
the use of antibiotics, in an attempt to treat any illness
for which they are not necessary, can result in serious
problems later on. Frequent exposure of germs (bacteria)
to the use of the antibiotics can cause those germs (bacteria)
to develop immunity to some of those antibiotics. This can
mean when you do have an infection, and antibiotics are
necessary, the more common ones may prove to be ineffective,
causing you not to get well easily.