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Colds (Children)
Colds (Children)


Colds (Children)
Respiratory system
A cold or common cold is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract. It can affect the nose, sinuses, throat, voice and airways. Colds are very common and most frequently occur during the winter months. Children suffer from a cold more frequently than adults, averaging about six colds a year.
There are hundreds of different viruses that cause the common cold. The most common viruses belong to groups of viruses known as rhinoviruses or coronaviruses. As there are so many viruses and because the viruses constantly change, the body's immune system is unable to recognise each new virus which is why people catch colds year after year.

The viruses that cause the common cold are spread from one person to another in the minute water droplets carried in the air when someone coughs or sneezes. The virus can also be spread by touch or by handling objects that have recently been touched by someone already infected with the cold virus. People are most infectious when they show the first signs of a cold developing.

Whichever way the virus is transmitted, it enters the nose and attacks the lining of the nasal passages, causing them to become inflamed and producing the symptoms of a cold.
A blocked and runny nose is the most common symptom of a cold, accompanied by tiredness, a general impression of being unwell and lost appetite. The child may have a raised temperature, yet complain of being chilled, and may also have a sore throat and cough. Headache, caused by tension resulting from congestion in the nasal passages or because of the raised temperature, is another common symptom.

The symptoms of a cold usually begin 2 to 3 days after becoming infected and last for 2 to14 days. Most children recover from a cold within a week.
There is no cure for the common cold and there is no vaccine to prevent colds.

Antibiotics do not work against the viruses that cause colds, although antibiotics may be used if a child subsequently develops a bacterial infection that causes a chest infection or an ear infection.

Although there is no cure for the common cold, treating the symptoms can bring relief while the child's immune system fights the virus. Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can ease the aches and pains, and reduce fever. Aspirin and aspirin-based products should not be given to children under 16 years of age.

Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline and xylometazoline can help clear a blocked nose and sinuses but should not be used long-term as they can make the condition worse. They should not be used in children under 6 years of age.

Steam inhalation or inhalations containing menthol and essential oils will help ease nasal congestion. Applying these inhalations or vapour rubs to a child's clothing can also help clear a blocked nose. Throat lozenges and gargles help soothe a sore throat. However, to avoid the risk of choking, such preparations should only be used in children who are old enough to use them properly.

Cough remedies containing an expectorant such as guaifenesin may help remove mucus from the airways, or those containing an antitussive such as dextromethorphan may help relieve a dry tickling cough. However, these cough remedies should only be used in children over the age of 6 years.
When to consult your pharmacist
It is important that you check with your pharmacist before buying any over the counter remedies to treat the symptoms of a common cold. Let the pharmacist know the age of your child and whether he or she has any other illnesses.

Remember too, to check with your pharmacist what drugs are in the cough and cold preparations. Many of the traditional cold remedies have similar sounding names and their ingredients may differ or change. It is very easy to make a mistake and give your child too much painkiller or decongestant if more than one remedy is taken. Preparations containing codeine and dihydrocodeine should not be used to treat colds as they are not considered appropriate and may cause addiction if taken for more than 3 days.

Many of the traditional cough and cold medicines are no longer supplied from supermarkets or other non-pharmacy outlets and are available only from local pharmacies following a review of the safety of the use of these medicines in children.

Cough and cold remedies containing antihistamines, antitussives, expectorants or decongestants are not suitable for children under 6 years of age. Children under 6 years of age suffering from a cough or a cold may be given paediatric formulations of medicines containing paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a raised temperature, or if they have a cough may be given soothing cough medicines containing glycerol, honey or lemon.

Cold remedies containing antihistamines, antitussives, expectorants or decongestants can be used in children age 6 to 12 years, but they should only be used after soothing preparations have been tried and they should not be used for more than 5 days. Never give your child more than the recommended dose or other cough and cold medicines containing similar ingredients at the same time.
When to see your doctor
Cold symptoms usually disappear within a week and it is not normally necessary for your child to see a doctor unless there are other complications or if symptoms do not ease within a week. The production of green or yellow mucus suggests a bacterial infection has developed as a result of the initial cold, and if this affects the sinuses, chest or ears see your doctor as a course of antibiotics may be necessary. In children, signs of more serious infection include wheezing, persistent earache, fast or difficult breathing, persistent high temperature, drowsiness and chest pain. Children with a very high temperature should see the doctor. If your child is refusing to drink or is showing signs of suspected meningitis you should seek medical advice immediately.
Living with a cold
When cold symptoms are at their worst it is import your child rests to help its immune system fight the virus. Allow your child to rest, avoid over exertion and to get as much sleep as possible. Keep your child warm and stay in a room that has a constant temperature. If your child has to go out, wrap up warmly. Give your child plenty to drink to replace body fluids lost by sweating. If you smoke, do not do so in your child's presence.

Give your child tissues to use, rather than handkerchiefs, for nose blowing and for trapping coughs and sneezes to reduce the risk of spreading the cold virus to others. Dispose of the tissues in a waste paper bin. Encourage your child to wash hands frequently throughout the day to reduce the spread of the virus by contact with surfaces.

If necessary, treat symptoms with the medicines described above. If your child develops signs of a bacterial infection or has signs of a serious infection, see your doctor.
Useful Tips
  • Give your child plenty to drink
  • Do not give your child more than one cough or cold remedy without checking with your pharmacist
  • Allow your child to rest
  • Never smoke, or allow others to smoke, near your child

Reviewed on 22 June 2010