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Colds

Colds are probably the most common type of infection in children. The average child has 6 – 8 colds each year, and children in daycare can have even more.  With each cold lasting 1 – 2 weeks it may seem like your child is always sick.

What causes the cold in children?

  • The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by many strains of different viruses, most commonly rhinoviruses.
  • Because the common cold is caused by viruses, antibiotics are not effective against it and they will not help you get better any faster.

How does a child get a cold?

  • As with many upper respiratory tract infections, viruses are spread by respiratory droplets from an infected person’s nose or mouth.
  • The droplets can spread through the air and be breathed in by a child, or may land or be placed on another surface such as a toy, which is then touched by a child. If that child then touches their eyes or mouth, they can become infected.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cold?

  • sore throat
  • runny nose at first clear but then becomes yellow, brownish or green
  • cough (may last up to 2 – 3 weeks)
  • fever (typically 101° – 102°)
  • decreased appetite

How long will it take my child to become ill after being exposed to someone else with a cold?

  • Remember, just because your child is exposed to an ill person does not necessarily mean they too will become ill.
  • But if your child is to become ill it usually takes 2 to 3 days after being exposed.

How can a cold be diagnosed?

  • The cold is a clinical diagnosis meaning that the diagnosis is based on the child’s symptoms and physical examination.

What is the treatment for the cold?

  • Plenty of rest and fluids
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for discomfort or fever
  • Antibiotics, which treat bacteria, are not helpful for the cold
  • To unstuff your child’s nose before bed, put a drop of saline nose drops in each nostril, then suction with a bulb syringe.
  • A cool-mist humidifier in your childs room may keep their nasal secretions moister.

The use of over-the-counter cough and cold medications (i.e. decongestants and/or cough suppressants) should be discussed with your doctor before use!

  • Many studies have failed to show a benefit of these medications in young children with a cold.
  • These medications can potentially have serious side effects after overdose or when given in correct doses including agitation, irritability, and hallucinations.
  • In 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement on the use of codeine- and dextromethorphan-containing cough remedies in children, concluding that physicians should educate parents about the known risks and lack of benefits of these medications.
  • New guidelines issued by the American College of Chest Physicians in January 2006 make a strong recommendation against the use of over-the-counter cough and cold medications for children age 14 years and younger.

Remember: More is not necessarily better and may put your child at risk.

How long will my child be sick with the cold?

  • Symptoms usually last 7 to 14 days and will resolve on their own.

When can my child return to daycare or school?

Each facility usually has its own rules, but in general, children can return to school when they:

  • Have no fever
  • Can eat and drink normally
  • Are rested and alert enough to pay attention in class

When should I call my pediatrician concerning a cold in my child?

You should call your doctor if your child has:

  • fever for more than two days
  • ear pain
  • nasal secretions lasting for more than 10 days
  • if your child appears dehydrated
  • or if your child is having trouble breathing

How can the cold be prevented?

  • Frequent hand washing is recommended to decrease the chance of becoming infected. Click on how to prevent infection for more details.
  • Because there are so many different strains of the different viruses that can cause a cold, it is difficult to develop a vaccine to prevent the infection.