As we have now entered cold and flu season, we wanted to share some helpful advice about what to do when your child has a cold.
First, it is important to note that the average child experiences two colds per month throughout the winter. Often one cold blends into the next, giving parents the sense that their child has one continuous cold!
There are countless cold viruses circulating throughout the winter, including influenza, COVID and RSV to name a few. Symptoms typically involve runny nose, nasal congestion and cough – some viruses can even cause a fever. While symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks, most respiratory viral infections resolve on their own and don’t need antibiotics to get better.
The best prevention is good handwashing. To properly wash your hands, lather with a mild hand soap using warm or cold water, then rub your hands vigorously for 20 seconds (or the time it takes to hum the ABC song!).
We also recommend vaccinating your child against influenza and COVID (if he/she is 6 months or older), and if possible vaccinating against RSV. Please note that we have a limited supply of RSV vaccines and are only able to vaccinate our highest risk patients. In the future, we anticipate the RSV vaccine will be recommended for all children who are 8 months or younger at the start of cold and flu season.
Most children who develop colds simply need supportive care measures at home to make him/her as comfortable as possible during their recovery. Some items that are helpful are running a cool mist humidifier during sleep, using nasal saline (drops for babies, sprays for older kids) with suctioning or blowing the nose, and using medicines like acetaminophen (for any age child) or ibuprofen (for children 6 months or older) if there is a fever or discomfort. Note that fevers are part of our body’s immune response and will not hurt your child. They do often cause your child to be uncomfortable however, so for that reason, you can use fever medicines to help your child be more comfortable.
Medicines for cold symptoms have limited benefit. In general, coughs are an important part of our body’s response to infection and can help get rid of the mucus and phlegm that we produce to fight the cold virus. It is safe to use a honey based cough medicine in kids over 1. For kids older than 6 months, you can use an agave syrup based cough medicine. We do not recommend using multi-symptom cold medicines as there may be medicines that your child does not need. Over the counter cough and cold medicine is NOT recommended for children under age 4. From ages 4 to 6, cough and cold medicine should be used only if recommended by your child’s doctor. After age 6, cough medicines are safe to use.
When to call the doctor while your child is sick can be tricky to determine. Here are some general guidelines: while fevers are not harmful, you should call your doctor if your child is younger than 2 months and has a fever (more than 100.4 F or 38.0 C). We would also recommend calling us if your child has a fever for more than 3 days or is accompanied by irritability, significant pain, symptoms of dehydration, poor eating or labored breathing. We would also recommend letting us know if your child’s cold isn’t improving after 2 weeks or is lasting more than 3 weeks.