Common Cold

Definition: A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory passages (nose, throat, sinuses, eustachian tubes, trachea and voice box). Symptoms may include a runny or congested nose, sneezing, sore throat, hoarse voice, cough, fatigue, and body aches, and sometimes, fever. The color of secretions (green or yellow vs. clear or white) has no relationship to whether the cause of your child's illness is viral or bacterial. Onset of a cold is usually gradual, as well as the recovery.

Cause: Over 100 different specific viruses may cause colds. A virus that causes a cold can be caught from family members or from contact in the community such as the grocery store, playground, or church. When someone with a cold coughs or sneezes, the virus can be spread through the air directly to another person. The virus can also be spread through surfaces such as tables, counters or childrens' toys. Touching the surface can spread the virus to the person who touched the object.

Expected course: Colds may last from 3 to 14 days and it is not at all uncommon for a cough to last up to 3 weeks. Most colds are contagious for 1 to 2 days before symptoms appear and continue to be contagious until 2-3 days after the symptoms go away.

Home Care and Treatment

Viruses cause colds, and antibiotics do not cure the common cold. Antibiotics cannot kill the viruses that cause the infection. The treatment is mostly aimed at alleviating the symptoms and to support the body as it tries to heal itself. Always a good advice to follow is to eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and get lots of rest. Most children are not as bothered by nasal congestion as adults are and may not need treatment to help clear the nose. The following guidelines may be helpful if you feel your child needs some symptomatic relief of symptoms due to a cold.

Saline nose drops: Warm salt-water nose drops can help soothe the nasal passage and break up secretions that cause congestion. Saline nose drops may be purchased over the counter or made at home by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 1 cup of water. If necessary place 2-3 drops of the solution in each of your child's nostrils every 30 minutes to an hour as needed when your child is awake.

Suctioning: Parents should know that frequent and/or vigorous suctioning can cause swelling of the nasal airway and increased mucous production and cause more congestion. If the child is not able to handle the mucous and feel that suctioning is needed, use of a blue bulb syringe may sometimes help clear the nose of children who cannot blow their nose. It is important to suction very gently after using the saline nose drops and only once or twice a day if really needed.

Humidifier: Use of a humidifier might be helpful but children can also worsen when a humidifier is used. Its use in your child's bedroom might help thin the secretions that cause cough and congestion. In order to help prevent bacteria from growing in the water, change the water in the unit every day. A cool mist humidifier is preferable. If you have a vaporizer that uses heat, it is VERY important to use care so that your child is not at risk of being burned by the steam or the vaporizer.

© ABC Pediatrics of Kankakee County, S.C. 2015