It's that time of year again when children seem to keep catching colds. Sometimes the winter months can feel like one long sniffle-fest.
The cold virus is everywhere, so it's impossible to say, but there are some very good suspects. At the top of the list are the child's own hands. A child touches an infected person or something that an infected person has touched and then touches her own nose, mouth or eyes.
That's all it takes and 12 hours to five days later, the symptoms start.
Almost anything can carry the germ for a brief time. A doorknob, a grocery cart, a toy, money, a library book, the girl next door, a shared bicycle ... the list is endless, but the key is that the virus must reach the child's nose, mouth or eyes.
How to help
Once a child has a cold, dealing with the symptoms can be tricky. Colds are caused by viruses, which means they can't be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Thankfully, colds are harmless and they always go away in time, but they make a child miserable with cough, runny nose, fever and sore throat.
It's tempting to reach for over-the-counter remedies, but depending on the child's age, they simply don't work and might be dangerous. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration stated that over-the-counter cough and cold products should not be used for infants and children under 2 because serious and potentially life-threatening side effects can occur.
In fact, these medicines have never been proven effective in children under 6, so most pediatricians don't recommend them.
Some of the greatest confusion is caused by the "multi-symptom cold relievers" that contain medications with long, complicated names like dextromethorphan, guaifenecin, and phenylephrine. It's easy for parents accidentally to give the child an overdose by using several of these products together.
Cold symptoms are annoying, but bringing down the fever can make a child feel much better. Fortunately, ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Motrin and Advil, and acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, are effective fever reducers and pain relievers and are safe and effective in children and infants.
Last year the manufacturers of Tylenol and generic acetaminophen simplified the way they sell the drug by eliminating the "infant drops." Parents who still have some infant drops in their medicine cabinets should be sure to let their doctor know so the recommended dose can be adjusted.
During a cold, plenty of fluids can help loosen mucus and keep a child hydrated. For young children, saline nasal drops and gently suctioning mucus from the nose with a bulb syringe can help. Parents should notify their child's doctor if cold symptoms do not improve or get worse.
Overall, the best treatment for a common cold is rest, fluids and lots of TLC.
Editor's note: This is not medical advice. See a doctor for your specific health concerns.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.