A drip, a scratch, a-choo, a stuffy nose and a cough. These are the tell-tale signs of the most common ailment in the world — the common cold. Between the drier air outside, which may make your nose drier and more vulnerable to a viral infection, and people spending more time together inside — whether at home, school or daycare — this is definitely the time of year cold season kicks into high gear, especially in children.
In fact, it is estimated that some school-aged children will have as many as 12 colds a year. The CDC estimates 22 million school days are lost every year in the United States because of the common cold. It is a leading cause of doctor visits and no wonder — it makes little kids feel miserable, and parents want to offer their “babies” relief!
So how do you know when a cold is a cold which simply needs to run its course, or when your child is suffering from something more that requires a visit to a provider?
What is the Common Cold?
You might be fearful that your child has the flu when you first notice a runny nose. After all, today’s news often reports on how quickly the flu is spreading and how dangerous it can be. While the flu is certainly something that parents should look out for and protect children against by getting the flu shot, not all sniffles are flu-related.
At this time of year, many are simply the result of the common cold. The common cold lasts one to two weeks with symptoms usually showing up by day two or three after being infected. Its symptoms include extra mucous (clear that may turn gray, yellow or green), coughing, sneezing, sore throat, fever, fatigue, and sometimes a low-grade fever. The cold is a virus and cannot be treated with an antibiotic (unlike bacterial infections).
So, while the symptoms of a cold mirror those of the flu in many ways, you may not need to panic over your little one’s sniffles.
How to Treat a Cold
If your child does come down with a cold, there are many ways to help him or her alleviate the symptoms and stay more comfortable, including:
- Keeping him or her hydrated with extra fluids (Use breast milk or formula for babies under one year old).
- Ensuring extra rest.
- Keeping your child home from school when symptoms are at their worst to avoid spreading germs.
- Treating a fever with acetaminophen, except in babies under 3 months old. In that case, call a provider.
- Using a saline nasal spray and an aspirator to help clear nasal passages and make breathing easier.
- Using a cool mist humidifier to add moisture to dry winter air.
It’s important to note that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines (especially for children age 4 and under) are not always recommended. This is because coughing is the body’s natural way to get rid of the cold virus. Of course, if your child is coughing excessively, talk to your doctor what to do.
When to Call the Doctor
While it may well be true that your child’s stuffy nose is simply the result of a the common cold, be on the lookout for the following. You should call your doctor if:
- Symptoms persist longer than 10–14 days
- Your child complains of an earache or starts tugging on his/her ears
- Your child has breathing problems
- Your child has a fever of 103º or higher; or runs a fever of 101º or higher for more than one day
- Your child has vomiting or diarrhea
- Your child has chest or stomach pain
- Your child has swollen glands in the neck
The above symptoms could be a sign that a cold has progressed into something more serious, like an earache, sinusitis, the flu or pneumonia. In that case, your child should be seen and treated by a provider. Antibiotics may help in many of these cases.
We know that often, these more serious symptoms can appear suddenly and that fast treatment is key to ensuring your loved one’s health. American Family Care, the nation’s leading provider of urgent care, accessible primary care and occupational medicine, provides children with medical care for all sorts of non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses. If your child’s pediatrician is unavailable and they need immediate care, stop by AFC today. We are open seven days a week and offer extended hours, making us your number one convenient stop for your child’s health care!