The common cold is a respiratory illness that is very contagious and transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets creating what is called an epidemic. Unfortunately, the most affected by the common cold are children, elderly people or individuals with a very weak immune system.
We are all too familiar with the usual symptoms: a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and coughing. We’ve all had this bothersome cold at some point in our life. School children can catch between six and eight colds in a year. It’s one of the most common reasons for doctor visits and absences from school and work in the United States.
Sometimes you may find yourself asking, “Why is my child getting sick so often?” In reality, there are different subtypes of viruses that may cause a cold, and when the immune system gets weak due to a previous one, it makes the child more prone to get another type. If your child suffers from a chronic disease such as asthma, this makes him more vulnerable to acquire different viruses.
The common cold is usually not complicated, and it does not tend to last too long if is treated adequately. However, there are some viruses that tend to be more dangerous, especially for small infants, premature babies and immune-compromised children, such as respiratory syncitial virus and the influenza virus. Ask your doctor how you and your family can receive available vaccinations to prevent the complications from these infections.
The most common complications of common cold are ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. Always visit your doctor if you or your child has a high fever, especially if it persists for more than three days.
The best ways to prevent the common cold include washing your hands vigorously and making good use of hand sanitizers. Do not share utensils, toothbrushes, washcloths or towels. Wash all of your dishes with hot water and soap.
If you or your child gets sick, avoid going into crowded environments. If your children go to daycare or school, they should stay home if fevers are present. Wait for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone before allowing them to return to school. Encourage your children to wash their hands and use sanitizer often, and carry one with them if possible.
Although these are well-known ways to help prevent the common cold, you will find that strict practicing of these methods — especially during the winter months — should make a noticeable difference in your child’s health.
For a stuffy nose, you can use saline water drops followed by suction if secretions are visible. You can also use a cool-mist humidifier or a vaporizer in your child’s room to keep the airways moist. In the state of Utah, the air is very dry and the use of a humidifier will help to relieve the symptoms. Make sure you always keep a humidifier clean, and carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions.
For a cough, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that over-the-counter medications for a cough should not be given to infants and children younger than 2 years because of the risk of life-threatening side effects. Also, several studies show that cough and cold products do not work in children younger than 6 years of age, and can have potentially serious side effects. Honey can be used if your child is older than 2 years. Be advised that it is very dangerous to give honey to babies younger than a year old.
The use of antibiotics should be limited to the treatment of bacterial infections only. Always consult with your doctor and avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics on your children. Remember that medications have side effects, and you are risking that your child may become resistant to the use of antibiotics if they are unnecessarily used for the treatment of conditions other than bacterial infections. A virus causes a cold and antibiotics do not kill viruses. It’s the human body that has to fight the sickness, and antibiotics are not going to be helpful in this case.
C. Marila Taveras began medical school at age 16 and has been in practice for 15 years. She received her training at a Cornell University-affiliated hospital in New York City and was a researcher at Columbia University. She is the supervising pediatrician at Tooele Pediatrics.