Colder weather and the common cold

Colds are associated with winter as it’s the time of year when cold viruses are spreading, and people are feeling under the weather.

Cold viruses are spread from person to person. Since most cold viruses are spread through close contact, it’s best to have your kids stay clear of individuals who are coughing and sneezing.

The key to avoid infection is to stay away from sick people when possible, don’t share food or drink, and wash hands often, especially before eating.

You can’t catch a cold from going out into the cold. That’s a common myth.

A young child might get up to 10 colds per year or more, especially if they are in daycare or school. Unless they are getting serious complications like pneumonia or sinus infections, getting the common cold frequently is not a sign of a problem with the immune system.

There are no specific treatments for a common cold as they are viruses and antibiotics will not work. The body and immune system have to fight off the cold.

Typically for a mild cold, your child should start feeling better within about 10 days. Here are some tips to help speed up their healing process:

  • Have your child drink warm liquids.
  • Use saline drops and nasal sprays.
  • Nasal suction (for younger children) can help remove mucus.
  • Thin out the air in your child’s room with a humidifier.
  • Keep your child hydrated.
  • Make sure your child is getting enough rest.

For children less than 6 years old, it’s best to avoid cough and cold medicines. They tend to not work, and they can cause serious side effects.

Except in young infants, a fever itself is not a sign of severe illness. However, it’s probably a good idea to make an appointment with your child’s doctor if they have a fever.

The following situations are other times you should reach out to your child’s medical provider:

  • Fever – especially children younger than a year or if a child has a fever for more than two days
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble keeping food and liquids down
  • Having more than mild pain, such as ear pain or sore throat

Healthy habits all year long

Maintaining healthy habits and making them a part of your child’s routine can help them stay healthier all year long. Furthermore, ingraining these habits at a young age will help prepare them to lead healthier lives as adults.

Here are some healthy habits to add to your child’s daily schedule:

  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising
  • Staying hydrated
  • Practicing good dental habits
  • General hygiene, such as regular handwashing

7 home remedies for kids’ colds that actually work

Over the counter cough and cold medicines aren’t recommended for kids, but there are plenty of safe home remedies worth trying.

There’s no evidence that over the counter medication work, and they can actually have some harmful side effects. These may include an increased or uneven heart rate, sleeplessness, drowsiness, nausea, constipation and slow or shallow breathing. Over-the-counter cough and cold meds for kids under the age of six are not recommended, with the exception of paediatric Paracetamol, mefenamic acid and ibuprofen, which are generally good for treating aches, pain and fevers over 38 C when used correctly by caregivers. Many herbal and alternative remedies haven’t been evaluated for use with kids and are generally not recommended by medical practitioners, so check with your healthcare provider. Here are some tools for battling coughs and colds this winter.

1. A spoonful of honey

Several studies have shown that swallowing one teaspoon (15 mL) of honey about half an hour before bed can help you get a better night’s sleep and settle a cough. It’s believed that the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of honey may be at work. However, remember that kids under the age of one should never have honey due to the risk of infant botulism.

2. Plenty of fluids

Keeping kids hydrated is a really important part of making them feel better. A cold or cough can make kids lethargic, so they won’t want to eat or drink much, which means they can get even more lethargic, and the cycle continues. Offer small amounts of food and especially liquid often. Kid-friendly options include soup (low in salt), applesauce, juice mixed with a bit of water (offering it in an egg cup or even a shot glass may be enough of a novelty to intrigue them) and frozen treats like Popsicles. A good alternative to juice is cooled, fruity Rooibos tea, which is brightly coloured like juice but not nearly as sweet.

3. Saline spray

Saline drops and mists can help because salt loosens the mucus and makes it easier for a child to clear it out of their nose. If they’re upset with you after you do it, that’s how you know you’ve done enough. You can also get a suction device to gently clear out their nose. You can try teaching kids ages six and up to gargle with salt water (a teaspoon of table salt dissolved in a cup of warm water) to help relieve a sore throat.

4. Humidifier

A humidifier in your child’s room can help manage cough and cold symptoms by keeping their airway moist. Cool or warm mist? It doesn’t really matter, although a cool mist is generally better for a barky, seal-like croup cough.

5. Sponge bath

There’s reasonable evidence to suggest that a sponge bath with lukewarm water, combined with Paracetamol is more likely to bring a fever down within an hour than medication alone.

6. Extra pillows

Add an extra pillow to elevate your child’s head and help clear congestion.

7. Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub is still quite popular as a topical option.  There’s a small amount of evidence to suggest that it can improve symptoms at bedtime

While there’s no magic approach to clear colds instantly, you can manage their symptoms and help your child get some healing rest. Comfort is your ultimate goal.

When to see a doctor

Signs that you’re not dealing with a mild cough or cold and your child should be seen by a healthcare provider include wheezing; laboured or fast breathing (nostrils are flared, skin is stretched tight over the ribcage and a prescribed inhaler isn’t helping); a cough that leads to choking, vomiting or trouble breathing; difficulty waking up; and infrequent urination due to dehydration. These symptoms could be red flags that you’re dealing with influenza or another serious infection. When it comes to temperature, you should take your child to a doctor if their fever lasts longer than 72 hours.