How do I care for my child’s sore throat and cold?
Ralph McClure, MD, is a doctor on staff at East Morgan County Hospital, in Brush, Colorado.
Question: How do I care for my child’s sore throat and cold?
Answer: Children catch three to eight common colds a year, with the sniffing, sneezing, coughing and malaise lasting seven to 10 days.
Sometimes it seems like children are sick constantly, but this is pretty normal. There are over a hundred contagious viruses that cause these miserable upper respiratory infections, and at any given time there are usually two or three of them circulating in the community.
The best way to make your child feel better
The first thing to know is that antibiotics won’t help. We have good antibiotics for bacteria, but only a few for viruses and none for the cold viruses. The only place for an antibiotic is if bacteria takes advantage of the congested upper respiratory tract and sets up shop as an ear infection, sinusitis, or prolonged bronchitis. Only then will an antibiotic possibly help.
For the common cold I recommend drinking plenty of low-sugar fluids like water and mild juices. Extra rest is very important to supporting the body’s immune system and defeating the virus. Curtail or cancel your child’s group activities, not only to give your child time to heal, but to keep the virus from spreading to other children.
While over-the-counter cold remedies containing cough suppressants and decongestants may help older kids feel more comfortable, they do not help defeat the virus or prevent bacterial complications, and should be avoided in children under six. Likewise, nonprescription antihistamines may relieve symptoms such as a runny nose and watery eyes, but they do not hasten healing and do disrupt the body’s natural cleansing mechanism. Use them sparingly, perhaps to enhance sleep only at night. Suctioning the little ones with salt water nose drops can really help before eating and sleeping. Propping the upper body up, heating rubs to the chest and hot steam vaporizer really help encourage healing sleep.
Sore throats usually accompany the congestion and cough. You may see some redness, maybe little red bumps in the very back of the throat (cobblestoning), and maybe a few small lymph nodes in the upper neck. This is just part of the common viral infection and will run its course in several days. Gargling, Chloroseptic Lozenges, Ibuprofen in weight-based doses can really soothe the symptoms. Heating compress to the neck can help the pain, especially at night. Apply a heating rub to the front of the neck, wrap a strip of wrung-out cotton cloth around the neck and apply a wool sock snugly around the outside of all of it.
For the coughs you can apply the same heating compress to the front or back of the chest with heating rub, wrung-out cotton cloth, and outer layer to keep air from circulating beneath. Applied at bed time, especially with the vaporizer, this relieves a lot of the night time coughs that rob everybody’s sleep.
When to call for help
Keep in mind that it’s common for young children to get fevers of 100 F to 102 F with a cold. However, when a cold or sore throat is accompanied by a high fever, headache, and swollen or tender lymph nodes in the neck, it’s time to call the doctor, who can test your child for strep throat, which does need to be treated with an antibiotic.
If thick yellow or green nasal discharge (which is normal) lasts 10 to 14 days with no improvement, your child’s sinuses may be inflamed. The doctor can diagnose the problem and help your child find relief.
Sometimes there is additional “sinus pain" which could be described as pain that is in the upper teeth, between the eyes, the ear, or on your face. Both surgical and medical therapy can be effective in treating symptoms of nasal pain and obstruction. If your child suffers from additional symptoms consult an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) physician for your treatment options.
Perhaps the most important part of the whole subject is prevention. Keep all the vaccinations up to date. Lead the kids to embrace a regular, healthy low-sugar diet with plenty of fresh fruit. Encourage daily outdoor exercise. And insist on a consistent 8-10 hours of sleep nightly. This is the best way to beef up their little immune systems and very often defeat those hundred viruses before they can gain a foot hold.