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Feeling Better When You Have A Cold


No one likes getting a cold. As parents, we’ve learned to deal with it.  But watching your kids cough and sneeze and act miserable can push even the most stoic parents to the brink. But although there is unfortunately nothing we can do to make it go away immediately, there are many things we can do to help our kiddos feel better.

What causes a cold?

Colds are caused by a variety of viruses, the most common of which is Rhinovirus.  However, the common cold may also be spread by RSV, human metapneumovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and coronavirus.  These pesky viruses are experts at constantly changing and mutating.  So even if you get one, another can get you again a few short weeks later.  These are not once and done kinds of bugs.

What are the symptoms of a cold?

Most of us are familiar with cold symptoms. Your kiddo may begin with some clear runny nose and sniffles. Expect some cough and sneezing.  Headaches and body aches are common.  Many children also have a sore throat. Sleeping can be a challenge due to cough and congestion. Some children can have a low-grade fever with a cold although not all do.  Most cold symptoms last 7-10 days with the peak symptoms at days 2-3. Some kids will continue to have some cough remaining for a week or so after the rest of the cold symptoms have gone.

How can I keep my child from getting sick?

Even children with the absolute best hygiene practices can expect to get colds.  But the best prevention from getting a cold is washing hands and keeping those hands out of their faces. I am STILL asking my 2nd grade to please quit putting things in her mouth. She can recite my “hands in your mouth put germs in your body and make you sick” spiel but to no avail… the hands make their way up there anyway.. So model good hygiene practices and teach your kiddos to cover their coughs and wash those hands to the best of their abilities.

How many colds per year are normal?

The average adult gets about 2-3 colds per year.  Kids get a LOT more. Many preschoolers and kids in daycare will get 8-10 per year. Kids get more colds when they’re younger, and fewer as they approach highschool. So your youngster could be spending 100 days/year experiencing cold symptoms. No wonder it may feel like they are ALWAYS sick!

When should you worry?

If at any point during your child’s cold, they are acting a lot sicker than you expect, or are having any trouble breathing, they need to be checked out. Your pediatrician can examine them and see if they are having a secondary infection or if there is something else going on. It can be hard to hear that they just have the common cold, especially if you waiting a long time to be seen. We don’t like telling you we can’t make it go away either. But remember that when we say your child has a cold, we are also saying that they DON’T have an ear infection, DON’T have pneumonia, and DON’T have wheezing. These are good things.

Will antibiotics make it go away?

Unfortunately not. Although we’d all love to have a magic pill to make your kid’s (and ours too!!) misery go away more quickly, that’s just not possible. And using antibiotics when you do not have a bacterial infection leads to antibiotic resistance.  And doesn’t fix the problem.

What over the counter cold medicines can I use?

Although there are plenty of over the counter medicines readily available over the counter, none of them are really all that helpful. And often, they can be dangerous for kids.  Tylenol or Motrin can be given to help with discomfort or fever from a cold. But OTC cough and cold medications should be avoided unless you are told to use them by your doctor.

What CAN I do?

Luckily, there are lots of things we can do to help our littles feel better soon. Somestimes having a cold can be a great reminder for us to slow down and take better care of ourselves.

Saline nasal spray

This is the most under-utilized and most effective tool we have at our disposal…  both for our own colds and our children’s colds. A couple squirts in each nostril is safe for babies on up and can really help them to breathe more easily. Saline nasal spray can decrease the swelling inside the nostrils and also helps to break down all that stubborn mucous and make it easier to drain.

Go easy on the bulb suction

Although bulb suction can be a great tool when there are gobs of snot in a tiny tot too young to blow their nose, too much suction can actually make things worse. Using suction more than a couple of times per day can actually increase swelling in the nose. So even though the mucous is sucked out, their tissue is swollen so there is no net gain. Don’t be afraid to use it if needed, just don’t overdo it.


If your child is under a year old, NEVER use honey. But for older children, some studies suggest that a teaspoon of honey will work just as well, if not better, than OTC cold medications. And it certainly tastes better! As an added bonus, honey has fewer unwelcome side effects such as sleeplessness or restlessness than many over the counter cold medications.

Hot tea

A nice warm cup of tea with lemon and honey can be very soothing to a sore throat and helps ease some of the mucous down. Steam from hot peppermint tea can help open up nasal passages. Not able to convince your little to try some tea? Try some hot apple cider or hot cocoa instead. The warm liquids may not make the cold go away sooner, but they will certainly ease a sore throat.

Extra snuggles

Take the opportunity to give your little one lots of extra snuggles. Tuck them in and read a book. Acknowledge that they feel like poop and reassure them that they’ll be back to their perky selves soon.

Extra sleep

Don’t forget that children with colds need lots of sleep.  Make sure that they’re getting to bed at a decent hour. Cut back on non-essential extracurriculars.

Please remember, if your child is acting sicker than usual, has a high fever, or any difficulty breathing, contact your pediatrician ASAP.
Posted in Common childhood illness, General, Infants and Toddlers, Middle and High School, Preschool and elementary

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