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Health Information For Parents
The common cold is a contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.
Most adults catch a cold from time to time, but kids can get eight colds per year or more. They’re the top reason kids visit the doctor and miss school.
Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses carried in invisible droplets in the air or on things we touch. These viruses can get into the protective lining of the nose and throat, setting off an immune system reaction that can cause a sore throat, headache, and trouble breathing through the nose.
Dry air — indoors or outside — can lower resistance to infection by the viruses that cause colds. So can being a smoker or being around someone who smokes. Smokers are more likely to catch a cold than people who don’t smoke, and their symptoms probably will be worse and last longer, and can even lead to bronchitis or pneumonia.
But despite some old wives’ tales, not wearing a jacket or sweater when it’s chilly, sitting or sleeping in a draft, and going outside while your hair’s wet do not cause colds.
The first symptoms of a cold are often a tickle in the throat, a runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing. Kids with colds also might feel very tired and have a sore throat, cough, headache, mild fever, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. Mucus from the nose may become thick yellow or green.
Colds are the most common infectious disease in the United States. They’re very contagious, especially in the first 2 to 4 days after symptoms begin. They can even spread for a couple of weeks after someone starts feeling sick.
Colds spread through person-to-person contact or by breathing in virus particles, which can travel up to 12 feet through the air when someone with a cold coughs or sneezes. Touching the mouth or nose after touching a contaminated surface can also spread a cold.
Cold symptoms usually appear 2 or 3 days after exposure to a source of infection. Most colds clear up within 1 week, but some last a bit longer.
Your doctor won’t be able to identify the specific virus causing cold symptoms, but can examine your child’s throat and ears and take a throat culture to make sure the symptoms aren’t from another condition that may need treatment. If symptoms get worse instead of better after 3 days or so, the problem could be strep throat, sinusitis, pneumonia, or bronchitis, especially if your son or daughter smokes.
If symptoms last for more than a week, appear at the same time every year, or happen when your child is around pollen, dust, or animals, an allergy could be to blame. Kids who have trouble breathing or wheeze when they catch a cold could have asthma.
Colds will clear up on their own without specific medical treatment. Medicine can’t cure a cold, but can ease symptoms like muscle aches, headache, and fever. You can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on the package recommendations for age or weight.
Never give aspirin to children or teens, as such use has been linked to Reye syndrome, a rare but serious condition that can be fatal.
Many experts now believe that there’s usually no reason to give over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants and antihistamines to any child younger than 6. There’s little proof that these medicines work, and decongestants can cause hallucinations, irritability, and irregular heartbeats, particularly in infants.
Because so many viruses cause colds, there isn’t a vaccine to protect against them. To help avoid catching one, kids should:
Experts aren’t sure whether taking extra zinc or vitamin C can limit how long cold symptoms last or how severe they become, but large doses taken every day can cause negative side effects. Studies on herbal remedies, like echinacea, are either negative or aren’t conclusive. Few good scientific studies of these treatments have been done in kids.
Talk to your doctor before you give your child any herbal remedy or more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of any vitamin or supplement.
To help ease cold discomfort, you can:
What about chicken soup? There’s no real proof that eating it can cure a cold, but sick people have been swearing by it for more than 800 years. Chicken soup contains a mucus-thinning amino acid called cysteine, and some research shows that chicken soup helps control congestion-causing white cells, called neutrophils.
The best plan, though, is not to worry about whether to “feed a cold” or “starve a fever.” Just make sure your child eats when hungry and drinks plenty of fluids like water or juice to help replace the fluids lost during a fever or from mucus production.
Always call the doctor if you think your child might have more than a cold, your child gets worse instead of better, or if your child has any of these symptoms:
Like most viral infections, colds just have to run their course. Getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids — juice and water — can help your child feel better while on the mend.
Keeping up regular activities like going to school probably won’t make a cold any worse. But it will increase the likelihood that the cold will spread to classmates or friends. So you might want to put some daily routines aside until your child is feeling better.
Kids can get up to eight colds a year – or more. The common cold sends more kids to the doctor than any other illness.
The flu usually makes kids feel worse than if they have a cold. But it’s not always easy to tell the difference. Here are tips on what to look for â and what to do.
Coughs are a common symptom, butÂ most aren’t a sign of a serious condition. Learn about different coughs, how to help your child feel better, and when to call your doctor.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this contagious infection.
Washing your hands well and often is the best way to keep from getting sick. Here’s how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.
Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease.
Sinus infections, or sinusitis, are common and easily treated.
Many kids with this milder version of pneumonia feel well enough to go to school. But it’s important to keep kids home until after treatment kicks in and symptoms improve.
If you’ve been waking up with headaches, feeling stuffy or congested, and experiencing swelling around your eyes, you may have sinusitis – an infection of the sinus air spaces found in the bones around the nose.
Sinuses are hollow spaces in your head that can fill with mucus when you’re all stuffed up. Find out more in this article for kids.
You may have heard the old joke: If your nose is running and your feet smell, you must be upside down! But did you ever wonder why your nose runs?
Most teens get between two and four colds each year. Read this article for the facts on colds and ways to feel better when you catch one.
Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don’t wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.
Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease – and they’re so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.
Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.
You know they can hurt you, but what are these invisible creatures? Find out in this article for kids.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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