It’s a frightening time for any parent when your little one gets their first cold.
Even some adults don’t deal well with colds, so it’s understandable that your baby will be, uncomfortable. They might have a blocked and runny nose, not sleeping well, a fever maybe — but stay calm!
It may seem counter-intuitive, but catching a cold virus actually builds your child’s future immunity against it.
Colds build immunity, one virus at a time.
Colds easily pass from person to person through sneezing, coughing, even touching hands, tissues or objects like toys. So it’s no surprise kids usually have between 5 and 10 colds each year — not to mention that more than 200 different viruses cause colds!
But do not fear every cold virus that comes their way. Each time your child catches a cold, not only does their immune system fight it, but it remembers how to kill that particular virus the next time your child is exposed to it. And by the time your little one is an adult they’ll only get 2 to 4 colds a year – as they’ve built their immunity to them, one virus at a time.
Let colds run their natural course
Colds usually last between 7 and 10 days, although a cough can last longer – up to three weeks. Even though colds can make your child feel very unwell, they rarely cause serious harm. The best thing you can do is let their immune system fight the virus – and if necessary, relieve whatever symptoms your little one is experiencing.
There are many symptoms associated with a cold, but that doesn’t mean your child will experience all of them. A sore throat, tiredness, or fever may occur very soon after a cold virus is caught, followed by sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, and possibly coughing later on. It is also good to remember that while fever is uncommon in adults with colds – though a slight fever is possible – children are more likely to develop a fever with a cold.
Antibiotics don’t work on colds and can have serious side effects
Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria, not viruses. Because colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics won’t make your child feel any better or speed up their recovery when they have a cold – and antibiotics can cause side effects like diarrhoea, stomach upset, and allergies.
Antibiotic resistance is another serious problem that could affect you, your child, and the wider community. It’s when bacteria learn how to defend themselves against an antibiotic so they’re no longer sensitive to it, or can no longer be killed by that particular antibiotic.
The consequences of antibiotic resistance are that bacterial infections once easily treated with antibiotics may become more difficult, or even impossible, to treat. This problem is so serious that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the three greatest threats to human health.
So what can you do about antibiotic resistance? Well it’s simple, only use antibiotics when you or your child really needs them, as directed by you doctor – and don’t use them for treating a cold!
Relieve their symptoms
There are lots of ways to relieve your child’s symptoms without using medicines. Rest, their usual amount of fluids, and avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke can all do wonders. Medicines, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can also help relieve pain and fever.
If your child needs a medicine to relieve their cold symptoms, the most suitable choice will depend on their age, other health conditions, and the type of discomfort. You may be aware of the many ‘cough and cold’ and ‘cold and flu’ medicines available, but few clinical trials have proven their effectiveness, particularly for children, and they can cause serious side effects.
So it’s important to ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on which medicine to choose for your child. No matter which medicine you choose, each time you use it:
- Read the information on the label or packaging and follow the instructions
- Calculate the dose using your child’s weight, not their age
- Measure the dose accurately with an oral syringe or the measuring device that comes with the medicine (never use a kitchen spoon)
- Keep track of what medicines have been given, how much, when, and by whom.
Prevent the spread to others
Cold viruses can live outside the body for a short period of time, which means they can easily pass onto other people. Sneezing and coughing propels the virus into the air for others to breathe in or to land on other objects or surfaces. Mucus from a runny nose on a dirty tissue is also the perfect ground for viruses to spread.
You, your child, and others can help prevent catching or spreading colds by:
- Covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing
- Keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Using tissues to wipe your nose, and throwing them away after use
- Washing your hands with soap, particularly before touching or eating food, and after touching your nose and mouth
- Avoiding sharing toys, cups or glasses, and cutlery.
When to get help
Some serious diseases may at first seem like a cold but require urgent medical attention. So see your doctor if your child or baby develops any of the following symptoms:
- Temperature higher than 38.5C or chills
- Shortness of breath, noisy or fast breathing
- Neck stiffness
- Severe headache
- Light hurting the eyes
- Chest pain
- Difficulty waking up or unusual drowsiness
- A skin rash
- Persistent cough
- Aching muscles
- Bulging of the fontanelle (soft spot on top of the baby’s head)
- A high temperature (in babies under 6 months of age)
- Excessive irritability
- A strange high-pitched cry
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite/not drinking/feeding poorly
For more info about medicines, and what to do if your baby is sick, call a medicine or general health helpline.
– this article was kindly supplied by Jemma Edwards from NPS MedicineWise
Image credit: benedamiroslav/123RF Stock Photo