What to Do When Your Child Has a Cold

What to do when your child has a cold
Colds can't be cured or cut short, but you can help make your child more comfortable.

As a parent, you want to protect your child from harm and illness whenever possible. But the common cold is one illness you often can't prevent. According to local Pediatrician and Internal Medicine Specialist and active member of the CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital Medical Staff, Adrienne Breaux, M.D., American children get an average of six to eight colds every year.

Though you can't cure or shorten these infections, there are ways to soothe the symptoms and reduce your child's risk of catching the next cold.

Most colds are caused by a rhinovirus or coronavirus that infects the upper respiratory tract-the nose, throat, sinuses, ears and breathing tubes that lead into the lungs.

"Your child may catch a cold by breathing in virus particles left in the air by someone else's sneeze or cough, or by touching a surface that has virus particles on it and then touching his or her eyes, nose or mouth," says Dr. Breaux.  "Kids usually have more frequent colds than adults because of their close contact with lots of other children at school and day care. Their young immune systems are also less likely to have built up defenses against the most common cold viruses."

Colds cannot be cured. Antibiotics can't touch the viruses that cause them.  Fortunately, colds go away without treatment. Most children will recover in seven to 14 days.

In the meantime, you can make your child more comfortable with these suggestions from Dr. Breaux.

  • Give your child lots of fluids, such as fruit juices and water.
  • Make sure your child eats nutritious meals, even if they're small.
  • Put salt water drops in your child's nostrils to ease a stuffy nose.
  • Dab petroleum jelly under the nose to soothe raw skin.
  • Encourage your child to rest and avoid vigorous activity.
  • Consider giving acetaminophen for a fever. Never give aspirin, which has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a serious disease that can damage the liver and brain. Ask your child's health care provider if you have questions about whether or not to give acetaminophen.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), parents should not give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children younger than 2 years unless specifically directed to do so by their health care provider. These products could be harmful to young children if they're given incorrectly or if more than one product with the same active ingredient is used.

"Parents who are unsure about whether to give a cough or cold product to their child, or which product to choose, should talk to their child's health care provider," says Dr. Breaux.  "I often remind parents that cough and cold medicines do not cure the common cold, they only treat the symptoms. Children will get better with time."

Rest, fluids and time are usually enough to take care of a cold, but sometimes it can turn into a more serious infection.

According to Dr. Breaux, these are all signs that you should call your child's doctor:

  • A fever that lasts more than 3 days or goes above 101 degrees.
  • Shaking chills, chest pain or shortness of breath.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Ear pain.
  • Enlarged, tender glands in the neck.
  • Blue lips, skin or fingernails.
  • A cough that produces green or gray sputum, or lasts more than 10 days.

Though you can't protect your child from colds completely, you can take steps to make frequent infections less likely:

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands often, especially before eating.
  • Make it a rule not to share eating utensils or drinking glasses.
  • If possible, reduce your child's close, prolonged exposure to people with colds.
  • Reduce your child's exposure to cigarette smoke, which increases the risk of respiratory infections of all kinds.

Also keep in mind that healthy children are less prone to illness, period. "Encourage your child to eat healthfully and get plenty of sleep and exercise," Dr. Breaux adds. "A healthy body and strong immune system help protect your child from all viruses, including the ones that cause colds."

For more information about this topic, call CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital at

(337) 491-7577 or log on to www.christusstpatrick.org.

Adrienne L. Breaux, M.D., is a local physician specializing in Pediatrics and Internal Medicine.  Her office is located at 711 South Ryan Street, Suite 600.