Common Cold (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection)

Did you know that most children experience a common cold about eight times per season? Since most colds last close to two weeks, that means about one cold every three to four weeks! Colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not cure a common cold. The goal of treatment for the common cold is to help your child feel more comfortable until the virus runs its course and goes away. Studies have shown that cold medications do not alleviate symptoms of a common cold, do not change the duration of a cold, and may even be harmful to children.

Symptoms of the common cold include fever (see section on fever), runny nose, headache, sore throat, cough, and fatigue. Contrary to popular belief, a green or yellow runny nose does not mean that your child needs antibiotics. The color is only an indication that your child’s body is cleaning out old tissue destroyed by the cold virus. This typically occurs during the middle of the cold, around days 5 to 7.

There are things you can do at home to make your child more comfortable while he or she is fighting off the cold virus:

  • Cool air humidifier, rest, and plenty of fluids to drink, are helpful.
  • It also helps to elevate your child’s head to help the mucous from their nose to drain. Elevating the mattress by placing a rolled-up towel between mattress and box spring is helpful for young children who are still in their cribs (older children can add an extra pillow).
  • Saline nose drops. You can make them at home by mixing 1/8 tsp salt in one cup of warm water. Put two drops in a nostril, then suction. You can repeat in the other nostril. The best time to do this is before sleeping and before eating. For older children, you can even use a saline nose spray like Simply Saline which will even flush out their nose.

Also, contrary to popular belief, milk does not increase mucous production. Many children will lose their appetite while they are suffering from a cold – this is OK as long as they continue to drink liquids. Kids will make up for lost calories when they are feeling better.

Reasons to call the doctor during regular hours:

  • A cold that lasts more than 10 days
  • Fever that lasts four or more days, or one that occurs AFTER the child has been sick with a cold virus
  • A cough that is present both day and night
  • Ear Pain
  • Throat pain that persists past the first two days of a cold, or throat pain without congested nose
  • Anything that concerns you!
  • Colds in babies under 2 months of age

Reasons to call the doctor immediately:

  • Any trouble breathing (not due to nasal congestion)
  • Any baby under age 2 months who is ill or with fever
  • If your child is dehydrated (see section on vomiting)