Dr Paula Robertson, Paediatric Emergency Consultant, Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.
It is the start of the July/August vacation period, which usually gives some respite from common childhood conditions, but these tend to flare up once more with the start of the new school term in September. It’s a good time, therefore, to review some common childhood conditions and how to manage them:
The common cold
According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 200 viruses can cause the common cold; rhinovirus is one of the most common of these viruses. The cold can spread from person to person through the air and close personal contact. As this is caused by a virus, antibiotics do not work and do not help you feel better if you have a cold.
Signs and Symptoms:
When viruses that cause colds first infect the nose and sinuses, clear mucus is produced; this helps wash the germs from the nose and sinuses. The mucus fills your nose, and can cause a runny nose, congestion and post-nasal drip (when mucus drips down the back of your throat, causing symptoms like a sore throat and cough). After two or three days, mucus may change to a white, yellow, or green colour. This is normal and does not necessarily mean that antibiotics are required.
Other signs and symptoms of the common cold can include:
Post-nasal drip (mucus dripping down your throat)
Mild body aches
These symptoms usually peak within two to three days but can last for up to 10-14 days.
General advice and symptom relief:
Get lots of rest.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer, for example a Vicks vaporizer or one that allows you to put in menthol and/or eucalyptus oil.
Turn off the air conditioning if possible – this tends to make nasal congestion worse.
Avoid smoking, secondhand smoke, and other pollutants (airborne chemicals or irritants).
Use saline nasal spray or drops as needed.
You can give simple anti-fever medications such as paracetamol if needed, using the recommended dose on the bottle.
Please note that over the counter (OTC) cough and cold preparations have not been adequately studied in young children and can be associated with side effects. The American Academy of Paediatrics and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US have both ruled that they should not be given to young children less than four years old. In fact, supportive care measures such as those outlined above can often work just as well, and are much safer.
Consult your doctor if:
Symptoms last for more than one week without improvement.
Symptoms are severe or unusual – for example fever not responding to paracetamol, or you are not tolerating fluids.
If your child is younger than three months of age and has a fever, it’s important to call your doctor right away.
Common cold symptoms. Picture from the CDC: Common Cold and Runny Nose (www.cdc.gov)
There are steps you can take to help prevent getting a cold, including:
Practice good hand hygiene – for example, washing hands regularly, coughing and sneezing into a tissue, using a hand sanitizer.
Avoid close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections.
Avoid sending your child to daycare or school until they are better.