Anyone who has ever parented a small child is familiar with caring for a sick kid, especially this time of year.
If you think hungry and tired make for a cranky toddler, then try adding cold symptoms. Like most of us, kids don’t like a stuffed up nose or fever. Coughing is not only annoying and unpleasant but it makes sleeping difficult. Why does it always seem like cold symptoms get worse at night?
Well-meaning parents just want to find a way to comfort their sick little ones, perhaps by controlling these common symptoms of viral respiratory illness. Unfortunately, the chemicals found in cough and cold medications are not the answer, especially for small children.
Cough and cold medicines continue to generate substantial revenue. Use in children remains widespread, even though at best these medications are not effective in small kids and at worst they are toxic.
More than 50,000 pediatric exposures to cough and cold medicines are reported to poison-control centers each year, with the majority being children younger than 6.
One in four such ingestions cause moderate or severe effects, including occasional fatalities. To be clear, no child age 6 years or younger should ever be given cough or cold medications, and the likelihood of benefit for older children is low.
Common analgesics such as acetaminophen may be used for fever or pain control, with careful dosing. Because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, aspirin-containing products should be avoided in children and adolescents, except under close supervision of a physician.
That said, parents and child caregivers may be wondering what can be done to soothe mild cold symptoms in kids. There are options. Perhaps it goes without saying, but prevention is a good first step.
Annual flu vaccination for children of all ages, proper hand hygiene, avoiding hand contact with mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth and covering a cough or sneeze can prevent viral respiratory illness in the first place.
Nevertheless, when kids do get sick, arming the body’s natural defenses with rest and proper hydration cannot be over-emphasized.
Warm liquids provide the added benefit of loosening respiratory secretions and providing a soothing effect. Topical saline spray, available over the counter, can help with nasal congestion. When combined with use of a bulb syringe in infants, it can improve capacity for nasal breathing. Humidified air from a humidifier or vaporizer may also be beneficial, although studies have not proven this.
In children older than 1, mixing a teaspoon of honey with warm liquid may reduce nighttime cough.
Children with more severe symptoms such as breathing difficulty or inability to drink adequate fluids should have a medical evaluation.
For most kids, viral respiratory illness is mild and self-limited. Antibiotics are not indicated for colds.
Time and a healthy immune system will result in a return to normal health.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.