It’s that time of year when the common cold is starting to pop up in schools, the workplace and your home. While frustrating, particularly when your child becomes sick, it is to be expected. But how do you know when your child is getting ill, and what can you do to treat and prevent colds?
The common cold can present in many ways depending on the individual. If you and a family member become infected with a virus, you may have the same signs and symptoms, but you also may have some differences. Some of the symptoms of the common cold can include fever, low energy, sore throat, having little appetite, a dry or wet cough and the dreaded sinus pressure. These are the most common, but there may be other symptoms, such as chills and mild body aches, that are present less often. Expect symptoms to last about a week, and seek medical attention if the cold lasts longer.
Most people think that there is only one cause for the common cold. However, there are many causes, including rhinovirus, coronavirus, influenza virus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus and many more. During the coming winter, these different viruses will circulate in our community. If you or your child suffer from more than one cold, you may have been infected by different viruses.
If your child becomes sick, rest and fluids are the best medicine. While some home remedies such as drinking soup are good, others are not. For example, bathing children to lower a high temperature just makes them uncomfortable and does not keep the fever away. Instead, consider keeping your child home from school and other activities to rest.
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If your child spikes a fever, don’t panic. Fevers are good and the body’s natural response to a viral infection. In general, a fever does not need to be treated unless it is causing discomfort. But be aware that in infants, you have to be careful that the fever does not represent a more serious infection.
Giving medication such as Tylenol, Motrin and Advil is controversial. You should only give those medications if your child is uncomfortable. Other over-the-counter cold remedies are now considered unsafe for smaller children. Overall these medications have not been proven to work and may have more side effects than benefits. For alternative medicines, the same advice applies. There is not enough information on whether alternative medicines are of benefit.
It is important that you and your child get your influenza vaccination. The flu can cause more severe symptoms than any of the viruses mentioned previously, particularly in the very young and elderly. But remember that this vaccine prevents the flu but does not protect you from the common cold.
To prevent the common cold and other viruses, there is a simple solution. The best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands and not touch your face. Most people don’t realize that they touch their face without even thinking. If you touch something that had viruses on it, then your hands can bring that virus to your eyes, nose and mouth. Make sure you and your child wash your hands regularly. If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use a hand sanitizer, although it is not as effective at eliminating all the viruses. Do your best to keep little ones from touching their faces or putting their fingers in their mouths. If you have small children, you may want to avoid crowded places to limit exposure. To prevent your child from spreading the cold to the rest of the family, have him or her cover a cough with shirt sleeves, not hands.
If your child’s symptoms get worse or do not clear up after a week, it is time for a visit to the pediatrician. Your doctor will be able to determine if there is an infection present that requires antibiotics. For information on the common cold and its differences from the flu, visit UHealthSystem.com/health-library/infectious/common/cold.
Ivan Gonzalez, M.D., and Aida Chaparro, M.D., are pediatricians at UHealth – University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.