Happy cold and flu season! How many times have you taken your child to the doctor and been told, “It’s just a virus. Rest, push fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days”?
Sadly, it’s true. There are hundreds of different viruses that cause colds, from the most common rhinovirus through the ever-unpleasant adenovirus to the rather pretty coronavirus (it has a crown…).
We can’t fix any of them.
All of them are contagious. All you have to do to catch one is breathe around someone who has one, or touch a surface that someone infectious has recently touched and then rub your nose or eyes. After a 2 or 3 day incubation period you will wake up to a scratchy throat and headache and you too will be infectious (mostly for the first 3 days).
Children catch an average of 8-10 colds during the first two years of their lives; they average 6-8 colds per year during their school years. Since most colds occur from October through March, this means 1-2 colds per month, lasting 10 days each. If it seems like your children are sick all the time, it’s because… they are sick all the time.
Symptoms of a cold include fever, red watery eyes, congestion, cough, tiredness and decreased appetite. Your child’s ears might feel plugged up. Watery nasal discharge can turn thick and green after a day or two (this doesn’t mean they have a sinus infection, it’s just part of what a virus does).
So how do we keep them as healthy as possible? You probably already know the basics:
- Wash their hands frequently. Keep those hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth! No nail chewing!
- Cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Elbows or facial tissues work.
- Disinfect surfaces.
- Look for small daycares and classes whenever possible (I know, but we can dream).
- Do what you can to boost their young immune systems. Breastfeeding your infant will make me poor–all that wonderful grown-up immunity transferred to your little one. Never smoke in air your child will inhale. Really. Never. It will destroy their immune system. And yours, by the way. Take probiotics like Acidophilus (in yogurt) or Lactobacillis.
- Make sure they get enough sleep. If they are sleepy during the day, move their bedtimes up. Tired people get sick.
- Offer them healthy food, and throw out all the unhealthy food so they will have fewer options when they get hungry.
- Have lots of fluids available, because hydration is necessary for your body’s defenses to work. And no, I don’t mean soda. Water, dilute juice or milk please.
When your children get sick, treat their symptoms so that they will feel better. We have nothing that cures colds–antibiotics do not kill viruses. Salt water (saline) nose sprays are safe. Tylenol or ibuprofen will help with fever and pain. Over the counter cold meds will suppress some of the symptoms in children over 6 years of age, although they’ve never been proven to work for younger kids.
Call your doctor if the fever lasts more than three days, if your child is lethargic or unusually cranky, or if they have an earache or breathing problems.
Make them rest and drink fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days.