Pediatrician Intuition – What your pediatrician wants you to know
by Whitney Casares, MD, MPH
Snotty noses. Coughs. Sneezes. It’s time for the common cold to take full effect in doctor’s offices around the country. There’s no exception here in the Pacific Northwest. Questions about how to deal, what to give and when to see the doctor? We have the answers.
1. What is the cold and how do I know if it’s something more serious?
The cold is caused by a number of different viruses, the most common being rhinoviruses. Other viruses like adenoviruses, influenza viruses, enteroviruses, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and coronaviruses can also cause colds. Sometimes viruses that cause the common cold end up leading to more specific syndromes. For example, the RSV virus can lead to a syndrome called Bronchiolitis, where the lower parts of the lungs become inflamed and irritated. Adenovirus can sometimes affect the eyes and cause inflammation in the conjunctiva, called conjunctivitis.
Your child’s appearance is the best predictor of how serious his or her illness is. We care the most about how easily kids are breathing , their hydration status and if they become lethargic. We also like to see kids if they develop severe ear pain, facial swelling or severe sore throat with fever. These things can make us worried there is a secondary bacterial infection, though it’s not always the case.
Even though it’s frustrating, the common cold can last at least 10 days and 14 days of cold symptoms is not out of the normal range. Kids can also be more tired and have more difficulty sleeping as a result of their colds. The average child under the age of 6 has at least six colds per year, with slightly less frequency as they get older. That’s about 1 cold per month for the winter months. No wonder you feel like they’re constantly sick!
2. How do I treat it? Is there anything that works?
A trip down the drug store’s cough and cold aisle makes most parents’ heads spin. So many products, so many choices… what to do? The basics of cold care are comfort, comfort and more comfort. Mom really was right when she recommended chicken noodle soup, but mostly because it is a warm liquid that works to thin secretions. Of course, being careful to keep liquid temperatures in a safe range for your child is always important. Honey has also been proven to soothe the throat in kids over the age of 1. Some families find humidifiers, saline drops with bulb suction and elevating the head of the bed helpful though studies aren’t conclusive that they work on every child.
Most cough and cold remedies sold over the counter are combination products that have the potential for accidental ingestion, inadvertent overdose or adverse side effects. We recommend talking to your pediatrician if you are considering using one of these products for your child.
The common cold is, at least for the near future, a problem that is here to stay. Understanding just how common it is, how long it can last and when to worry can help you be prepared to face this winter season.
About the blog
This blog is written by our providers. It is not intended to replace any medical advice, but rather to share our thoughts on a variety of topics we encounter daily as primary care pediatricians in the Portland area. Each entry’s author is named under its title. This content is not based on any commercial product or service, nor is it a recommendation of such. Opinions expressed are our own and are not influenced by any form of compensation.