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The Common Cold – What One Needs to Know

As the song goes – “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” but along with the hustle and bustle of the Autumn and Winter seasons, is the cold season. Parents, pediatricians, daycare providers and teachers can attest to this. I thought that it would be timely to write this article about the common cold because it could cause significant burden on parents through “sleep deprivation” from taking care of sick and uncomfortable children at nighttime. Some parents and guardians will also be doubly stressed when left without any option but to take off from work in order to bring their sick children to the doctor or take care of them at home.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

Running nose, cough and nasal congestion are the most common symptoms of the common cold. Fever may or may not be present. Older children and adults may complain of a sore throat and hoarseness. Diarrhea and vomiting are not common symptoms.

How is the common cold diagnosed?

The common cold is diagnosed based on symptoms and physical examination. There is no laboratory testing needed. Sometimes your child’s doctor may want to check for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) or influenza infection that may be present with cold like symptoms initially, but these are not done routinely.

What causes the cold season?

Rhinovirus can cause at least 50% of the colds in children and adults, but the cold season is a result of different strains of viruses moving through the community during the fall and winter seasons.

How does one catch a cold?

There are three ways to catch a cold:

1. One may inhale some viral particles that become airborne from coughs and sneezes from a person with a cold.

2. Alternatively, these viral particles may land on the mucous membranes of the eyes or nose

3. Lastly by self – inoculation, meaning by touching one’s eyes or nose after touching a person or object contaminated with a cold virus.

What is the treatment for the common cold?

Unfortunately, there is no specific and 100% effective treatment other than supportive care such as saline drops with bulb suction to relieve nasal congestion. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be useful for the fever and may relieve some discomfort. Aspirin is not recommended in children because of its association with Reye syndrome. Cough and cold medications in children younger than 6 years old are not recommended.

Occasionally at the discretion of a child’s doctor, certain cough and cold medications may be prescribed for symptomatic relief especially at bedtime.

How long does a cold last? Can antibiotic shorten the course of a common cold?

The common cold is a self- limited disease, but symptoms may last up to 10 days. One should begin to improve by this time. Because the cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not beneficial and will not hasten recovery. The nasal discharge which is clear initially but often turns yellow-green within a few day does not necessarily indicate a secondary bacterial infection. It is important to know that antibiotics will not prevent secondary bacterial complications.

What are the complications of the common cold?

A common cold may sometimes predispose to ear infection, sinus infection and pneumonia. At this time, antibiotics may be indicated. Infants with history of asthma and wheezing may also be at risk of getting exacerbations.

My child is getting recurrent colds. Is this normal?

A healthy child younger than 6 years old may normally experience up to 8 colds per year. This is because cold viruses do not produce lasting immunity and there are just too many viral trains that can cause the common cold. Young children who attend daycare may experience more than 8 colds per year.

How does one prevent catching a cold?

There is no vaccine for the common cold and it is unlikely that there will be one because of so many viral strains. Proper hand washing removes cold viruses from the hands. Alcohol based hand sanitizer is acceptable to use if soap and water are not available in children older than 2 years old under close adult supervision. Avoiding touching one’s nose and eyes can decrease self-inoculation.

Why is the flu shot recommended?

.Although most children and adults recover from influenza infection with or without treatment, this may sometimes cause severe disease and even death even in healthy individuals. Yearly vaccination is recommended from persons 6 months and older especially for those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and cystic fibrosis because of increased risk of severe disease.

I hope that this article has addressed some of your questions about the common cold. It goes without saying too that the child’s first line of defense of boosting his/her immune system is by eating healthy, getting enough sleep and avoiding passive smoking.

It is still the most wonderful time of the year despite the cold season. It is a time of giving, and receiving and being with love ones….

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