I have written about the common cold, hand washing and flu at different times over the years. Since I have a houseful of runny noses I figured it was a good time to post about this topic again. Our “common cold” season runs from September until March or April, so children usually catch most cold viruses during these months.
The ‘common cold’ is the most common illness of young children. It is caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and sinuses. These viruses enter the body through the eyes, especially and the nose. Entry through the mouth is not as big a concern.
The typical symptoms of a cold in young children include:
- runny or stuffed-up nose and sneezing
- loss of appetite
- mild fever
- mild sore throat
It’ easy for us to see the first signs of the first 5 on the list, but the last 2 are harder, as our youngest children they are often not able to explain to us how they are feeling. During the early stages of a cold, often before there are more visible symptoms, your child may be out of sorts or irritable.
Colds usually run between 4 to 10 days. Most children feel miserable for just a few days of those days.
It may seem like you are dealing with one cold after another all winter, and you might be. Young children can get as many as 8 to 10 colds each year before they turn 2 years old. It does drop down some after that, but with the large number of viruses that can cause colds and new cold viruses developing, children never build up resistance against all cold viruses, just the ones they have had.
Cold viruses are passed in 3 ways:
Direct contact: kissing, touching or holding hands with an person sick with a cold. If you have a virus, there are germs in your nose, mouth, eyes, on your skin, you pass on the virus with physical contact. – I cannot stop the touching or close contact, but when colds are here I try to stop the hello and goodbye hugs and kisses. We’ll come up with other creative ways to acknowledge our friends. That is also why I encourage kisses only on checks throughout the year.
Indirect contact: touching a toy, doorknob, a used tissue, etc., that has been touched by an infected person and now has germs on it. The common cold virus can live on objects for several hours, allowing time for your child to touch the object and then rub their eyes or nose. – The best best to combat the number of colds is hand washing! That means warm water, soap and a good scrubbing job (20 seconds). We talk about making as many bubbles as we can that cover the whole hand, especially between the fingers. This will usually get us to the 20 seconds. Or you can sing some simple songs together.
- Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or wiping your nose.
- Wash your hands after being in contact with someone who has a cold.
- Wash your own hands and your child’s hands after wiping your child’s nose.
- When water and soap are not available, use pre-moistened hand wipes or alcohol-based hand rinses. Keep hand rinses out of your child’s reach because they may be harmful if swallowed.
We also know that some germs spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from the cough or sneeze may reach another person’s nose or more likely land on a solid surface that will later to touched by another person. – Children here are taught to sneeze or cough into their elbow crease or upper arm. Catching a cough with the hand is no longer what is taught. That just concentrates the germs on the hand and then they are spread very easily.
Well, now you have a child with a cold, so what can you do to help them get through it as quickly and comfortably as possible?
- Making sure your child gets plenty of rest.
- Giving your child plenty of liquids.
- Use a humidifier in your child’s bedroom at night. The humid environment will help to keep your child’s nose and chest clear, making it easier to breathe.
- Using children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower fever and reduce aches. Talk with your health care provider before giving any child under age 4 an over-the-counter cold or flu medicine.
- In very young children with congestion, you can use a nasal bulb to gently remove mucus. You may also spray three drops of saline nasal spray into each nostril.