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Handling cold in children


Cold is an upper respiratory tract infection, and is quite common in children. Dr. Gbemisola Boyede, a Consultant Neuro-Developmental Paediatrician at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) tells GERALDINE AKUTU about cold in children and how parents can deal with it.

What causes cold in children and how long does it last?
A cold is a mild viral infection of the upper respiratory tract – that is nose, throat and sinuses. It is usually caused by viruses, and there are many types of such viruses. Most colds will resolve spontaneously within few days, and at most two weeks.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms include, blocked or running nose, popularly called catarrh, cough, sneezing and sore throat. There may also be low-grade fever, as well as headaches, feeling of fullness of the head and muscle aches, especially in older children.


What can parents do to help ease cold?
Most colds will resolve spontaneously on their own. However, the symptoms can be eased by giving children lot of fluids and keeping them warm. Simple over-the counter medications, such as paracetamol can be given to ease the discomfort, as well.

Will antibiotic help a child’s cold?
No! Antibiotics should never be taken for colds, because as stated earlier, most are caused by viruses and do not require any antibiotics. That will be antibiotics abuse.

Is it good to give a child cough syrup, if it lingers?
No! For children, especially infants and children below two years, paediatricians do not encourage the use of cough syrups. This is because it can mask the symptoms of severe chest infection, such as pneumonia or cause the parents to delay in seeking appropriate life-saving treatment early.

When should a parent take a child to the doctor?
If a child’s colds, especially if associated with cough is not resolving or getting better or perhaps getting worse with other symptoms, such as fast or difficulty with breathing, that child should be seen by a doctor to examine for possibility of pneumonia. Cough syrup also tends to depress respiration in children (most make the children drowsy) and others have serious side effects.

So, the parents should take the child to the hospital, if the child is not getting better after two weeks, fever is high (39C and above), the child is breathing too fast or the child has any form of difficulty with breathing.

What is the best treatment for cold?
There is no specific definitive or curative treatment for most colds. They resolve on their own after running their course. However, symptomatic relief treatment includes rest, drinking of lot of fluids, keeping warm and use of paracetamol for fever.

What measures should parents take to avoid spreading of cold to other family members?
Measures that can help, include keeping sick children at home away from school or play groups; regular hand-washing with soap and water, sneezing into a handkerchief and all other hygiene measures, such as immediate disposal of used tissues can help reduce, but not totally eliminate transmission to other family members, who should avoid sharing of towels and other household items with those who have cold.

In this article:
Gbemisola Boyede
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