There are many viruses that can cause a cold, which means that your kids can get a cold every few weeks or months, and year after year.
And unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine to prevent your kids from getting these colds. That often leads parents to try and look for ways to help their kids feel better when they have a cold.
Before trying to treat your child’s cold, you have to figure out when they have a cold.
Colds are often misdiagnosed as allergies, sinus infections, and even the flu.
That shouldn’t be too surprising when you look at the classic cold symptoms, which can include:
- a runny nose – with clear, yellow, or green drainage (green doesn’t mean that it is a sinus infection!)
- coughing – often from post-nasal drip
- sore throat – often from post-nasal drip
- watery eyes
- a low grade fever (usually under 102.2F or 39C) for the first few days
- mild headaches
- mild body aches
That’s right, you can have a fever with a cold!
Most importantly, understand that cold symptoms typically worsen over the first three to five days and then gradually get better over the next seven to ten days. So they can easily last for a good two weeks, although you can expect improvement in that second week.
Treating Cold Symptoms
So how should you treat your child’s cold?
A pediatrician I once worked with when I was a student used to recommend “soup, suckers, and showers.”
However, since treating the symptoms won’t help the cold go away, you could do nothing at all. While that might seem harsh, keep in mind that colds go away on their own and most of the things that we do to treat cold symptoms don’t actually work all that well.
Still, if your child has a cold and doesn’t feel good, some soup and popsicles (suckers) couldn’t hurt. Nor could some time in the bathroom with the door closed and a hot shower going, so your child can breath in the steam (while being supervised).
What about cough and cold medicines?
Because of the risk of serious, sometimes life-threatening side effects, since 2007, cough and cold medicines have carried the warning “do not use in children under 4 years of age.” So anything you find over-the-counter for younger kids now is either homeopathic (diluted to nothing) or just has honey as its main ingredient.
Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms
What else can you do to help control your child’s cold symptoms?
You could try:
- Letting him continue with his usual activities, including going to daycare or school, if he doesn’t have a fever and isn’t overly bothered by his cold symptoms.
- Encouraging your child to drink extra fluids.
- Using a cool mist humidifier.
- Spraying a saline spray or nose drops into your child’s nose.
- Suctioning your younger child’s nose with a bulb syringe after using saline nose drops. Keep in mind that even with specialty gadgets, like the NoseFrida, you can’t do deep suctioning like they do in the hospital, so any benefits will be very temporary. And this type of suctioning is for symptomatic relief, it won’t help your child get better any faster.
- Suctioning your younger child’s nose with a bulb syringe without saline nose drops.
- Encouraging your older child to blow his nose, although since this is mainly to help him feel better and won’t help him actually get better any faster, don’t nag him too much or cause a meltdown if he doesn’t want to do it.
- Giving your child an age appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and/or any aches and pains.
While there are cold and cough medicines for older kids, over age four to six years, and nasal decongestant sprays (like Afrin and Neo-Synephrine) for kids over age six years, there isn’t a lot of evidence that they work. They definitely won’t help your child with a cold get better any faster, so make sure they are at least helping him feel better if you are using one of them.
Even the popular cold and cough medicines with guaifenesin to thin mucus or long-acting cough suppressants probably don’t do much or anything to help your kids feel better and certainly won’t help them get better faster.
What about prescription cough and cold medicines? Most were forced out of pharmacies by the FDA several years ago because they were never actually approved or evaluated to treat cough and cold symptoms. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has long been against the use of cough suppressants with narcotics, such as codeine.
Most importantly, do see your pediatrician if your infant under age three months has a fever (temp at or above 100.4F or 38C), if your older child continues to get worse after three to five days, or isn’t at least starting to get better after 10 days of having a cold.
And avoid asking your pediatrician for an antibiotic when your child just has a cold. Antibiotics don’t help colds get better faster.
What To Know About Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms
Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than having a cold, is having a child with a cold and feeling helpless that you can’t do more to control their cold symptoms.
More Information About Treating Hard To Control Cold Symptoms
- Treating The Common Cold
- CDC – Common Cold and Runny Nose
- CDC – Symptom Relief for Colds and Coughs
- Treating colds: What parents can do
- FDA – Have a Baby or Young Child With a Cold? Most Don’t Need Medicines
- AAP – The Difference Between Sinusitis and a Cold
- FDA – Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids
- AAP – RSV: When It’s More Than Just a Cold
- You can’t beat the common cold, and that’s a fact
- Can medicines relieve coughing?
- Cough and cold medicines don’t work
- Colds in Children
- CDC – Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others
- FDA – Questions and Answers: FDA Intends to Remove Unapproved Prescription Cough, Cold, and Allergy Drug Products from the Market
- Why Is Codeine Still Being Prescribed For Children?
Last Updated on December 6, 2016 by Vincent Iannelli, MD