How common is a common cold? It is probably one of the most widely occurring illnesses due to a viral infection, and can be caused by nearly 250 different viruses. Colds generally do not cause serious complications, but they are among the leading reasons for visiting a doctor and for missing school or work.
Children have about 5-7 colds per year- a big reason for this is because they spend a lot of time at school or in day care centres where they are in close contact with other children who may have this infection. And to top it off, their young, yet-to-mature immune systems are not yet strong enough to fight off colds. Except in new-borns, colds in healthy children are not dangerous. They usually go away in 4 to 10 days without treatment.
The symptoms of a cold include things like:
- Sore throat
- Stuffy /Runny nose
- Mild fever
So what should a worried parent do? Here are some tips from Food and Drug Association (FDA) on how to safely treat a cold:
- Ensure the child gets plenty of rest. A day off from school surely helps!
- The most important thing you can do is encourage your child to drink a lot of fluids to keep the body hydrated. Give warm water at regular intervals. You can also try water boiled with ajwain or cumin. This can help prevent another infection from setting in.
- Avoid drinks with caffeine like coffee, tea, and colas. They may dehydrate the body.
- When it comes to food, follow your child’s appetite. Babies and toddlers with scratchy, sore throats often don’t want to eat because it hurts to swallow. Prefer soft, smooth foods like khichdi, semolina upma, porridges and soups. Try simple things like white rice porridge or vegetable/ dal / lentil broths. Soups with a dash of pepper thin out mucus and help in calming down coughs.
- Babies under 6 months do not need any other medication other than breast milk during cold and cough to fight off the virus and bacteria. The antibodies in breast milk help the baby’s body to build immunity against all types of germs and aids in proper hydration required.
- Try natural decongestants like steam, head elevation. Home remedies like warm honey, pepper, tulsi and ginger to be used only for children above 3 years.
- FDA doesn’t recommend over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines, apart from vapour rubs (Vicks) for children younger than 2 years. For infants and children younger than 2, OTC medicines may have serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.
- To prevent colds the natural way, it’s best to make sure your child has an uncompromised immune system to strengthen your body’s defence against germs. Incorporate nutrition by way of dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts, whole grains and pulses etc., in the diet on a daily basis.
- As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”, following are a few tips to protect your child and prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water. If this is not possible, use an alcohol-based sanitizer (optional).
- Teach children to cough and sneeze into a tissue/handkerchief. No tissue? Turn head away from others and then cough or sneeze.
- Encourage the child to not touch eyes, nose, or mouth often.
- Wash any shared surfaces, like door knobs, phones and keyboards, frequently. Viruses can live on surfaces for several hours.
- Staying away from crowds, particularly during cold and flu season.
If your child’s symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, and the child has red, itchy eyes, it might be indicative of an allergy. Visit the paediatrician if your child doesn’t get better after a few days. Also call in if he has a high fever, vomiting, chills and shakes, a hacking cough, or extreme fatigue. These may be signs of something more severe, like the flu.