common colds

I am not a medicine guy.  In the 1980’s, Nancy Reagan promoted “just say no”to drugs, and certainly with respect to medications for upper respiratory infections (“URI’s” “the common cold”) I firmly agree.  The large majority of URI’s are caused by viruses for which there is no effective treatment to kill that infection.  Young toddlers routinely experience 6-12 colds each year–that’s one every month or 2.  Fever is a common although not universal symptom.  The cough and congestion typically runs from 3-7 days but it is not rare for it to linger for up to 2 weeks. Headache, sore throat, body aches also occur typically.   It is common for nasal secretions to progress from clear to thick and dark–this is not any specific indication for a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics.

So what does work?

  • Drink extra fluids, particularly hot fluids like tea or soup–the steam eases nasal stuffiness and soothes sore throats
  • Vaporizer or humidifier in the child’s room
  • Nasal saline drops (you can make them at home–boil water for 10 minutes, let it cool, add 1/4 tsp salt for 8 oz of water and you have “normal” saliine) also relieve the stuffed nose.

The object of the above is to loosen respiratory secretions so they don’t settle in the lower respiratory tract and cause progression to bronchitis or pneumonia.  As such, coughing is good as it keeps the lungs clear.  So suppressing the cough is actually counterproductive and, except for sleep or pain relief, should mostly be avoided.

Honey is a mild but effective cough suppressant that can be used with the above in mind.  According to the American College of Chest Physicians, several “old style” anti-histamines can be useful for cough relief to aid the child’s sleep as well.   Acetaminophen (tylenol) or ibuprofen (advil, motrin) is useful for body aches and fever.  Please note that not only are most “cold medicines” ineffective, but they can actually be quite harmful.

What about sinus infections and antibiotics?  The CDC offers some specific guidelines here.

For prolonged higher fever (above 102.2 in children under age 3), coughing with rapid breathing(more than 1 breath/second for an hour), children unable to hold fluids and not passing urine, or a child who appears to be in great pain, it’s always best to call.

Thanks for following; please contact me for comments or questions.

4 thoughts on “common colds

  1. Pingback: RSV | Dr. Charles Geneslaw
  2. Pingback: croup | Dr. Charles Geneslaw
  3. Both my girls are sick, so I googled your blog and “colds” and found this. THANK YOU! Definitely put my mind at ease.


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