This has been a tough winter for illness! It seems that nearly everyone has the sniffles, not least our little ones. But what is the common cold? How is it spread? How do you treat it? And when should you take your child to see the doctor? When can you use a medical app?
Symptoms and Definition of Common Cold
The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat. Many different viruses can cause a cold but one called rhinovirus (which is easy to remember because ‘rhino’ means ‘of the nose’) is responsible for most colds. Symptoms include sneezing and coughing, a blocked or runny nose, a sore throat, a headache, ear pain and watery eyes. Younger children often develop a fever (a temperature of 38°C or more); this is the body’s way of supporting the immune system while it fights the infection and is not dangerous.
How exactly are colds spread?
We all know that colds are spread when someone sneezes or coughs around others but many people don’t know that most colds are transmitted by touching infected secretions then touching your nose or eyes. For example, if you shake hands with someone who has coughed into their hands, and then you rub your nose, you’re at risk of catching a cold. So wash your hands! (And your kids’ hands, and their toys, and your door handles too).
How Can I Treat It?
Unfortunately, there is no wonder treatment for the common cold. Sorry. Antibiotics won’t help because colds are caused by a virus (remember, antibiotics only work for bacterial infections). The aim is therefore to treat the symptoms until the body can clear the infection. Symptoms are usually at their worst on days 2 to 3 before gradually improving over the next 10 to 14 days. Many kids will then go on to have a lingering cough for a few more weeks – this is called a ‘post-viral cough’.
Top Cold Busting Tips
- Give your child plenty of fluids (if your child is old enough, warm liquids such as good quality chicken soup are great)
- Try unblocking little noses with gentle suction followed by sterile saline nose drops or sprays (and don’t ever use nasal decongestants in children under the age of 12)
- Humidified air may be helpful
- Paracetamol and/or ibuprofen are available over the counter at the chemist, and help painful ears and throats. They will also help if your child is grizzly or uncomfortable due to a fever (always follow the instructions on the bottle)
- A teaspoon of good-quality honey given 30 minutes before bedtime may help to reduce the severity and duration of the cough (but don’t ever give honey to any children under the age of one as it can cause life-threatening muscle weakness).
- Use your best veggie-disguising skills to get lots of brightly coloured vegetables into your kids
- Many cough medicines are dangerous for children under the age of 12 and we therefore do not recommend them
- Don’t ever smoke around children (and better still, don’t smoke at all)
What to do if they are still sick?
If your child is very unwell or sleepy, not drinking enough fluids or having difficulty breathing you should see your doctor. Please also see your doctor if your child has had a fever for five days or more, or if the post-viral cough has persisted for three weeks or more.
And remember: if you’re just not sure if you need to go to the emergency department, download the My Emergency Dr medical app and talk to our friendly doctors!