Sick girl with thermometer

by Cody Wilson, DO, Primary Care Pediatrics

It’s no secret that kids have a difficult time sharing, but what they don’t have any problem sharing are infections. The most common infections you will see this time of year cause upper respiratory infections or “colds.” Common cold symptoms are nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, sore throat, low-grade fever or headache.

These infections typically last a little longer in younger children, with symptoms peaking at two to three days and then gradually improving over 10-14 days. Older children typically have their symptoms for five to seven days. With some people, coughing can be the most bothersome complaint and can occasionally linger up to three to four weeks.

But what in the world are you supposed to do when your baby starts coughing? Can you give them medicine? As you stroll through the store aisles, you will see all sorts of medications that are labeled for children’s use. The truth is, however, that if your child is less than six years old, and some would even say 12 years old, all of those medicines are not recommended for children. They do not provide consistent relief and can cause significant side effects as well. So, what do you do? Here are some remedies that will provide some symptomatic relief.

  1. Nasal saline and suction: With younger babies, use some nasal saline. Put a drop or two in each side of the nose, let it sit for a short time and then put your suction bulb to good use. Older kids may benefit from a saline nasal spray or nasal saline rinses.
  2. Humidifier: Using a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer helps loosen up secretions in the nose. Try avoiding heat mist humidifiers as they can cause burns and don’t really provide more relief compared to cold ones.
  3. Honey: Honey might help a cough at nighttime and is unlikely to be harmful. However, don’t give it to kids under 12 months old because of the increased risk of botulism. You can give it to older kids in a spoon or mix it with warm water and then let it dissolve.
  4. Vapor rub: You can apply vapor rub to the chest, back or the bottom of feet to provide some relief. This should typically be used for kids over two years old. Watch for skin irritation, which can occur.
  5. Increased fluids: Drink plenty of fluids and then drink some more. This may help thin secretions and sooth the irritation triggering a cough.

How do you know if your child needs to see a doctor? Here are some final tips. Take your child to the doctor if their symptoms are still present after two weeks, if there are any concerns about difficulty breathing or if there are concerns about other complications such as possible ear infections. These are all situations when your doctor can help.