Cold and Cough Symptoms

Overview

  • A "cold" is a group of symptoms caused by many different viruses.
  • These viruses cause infections of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). 
  • On average, children under 6 years old experience 6-8 “colds” per year, and usually more than this number if the child is in daycare.
    • However, when daycare children enter primary school, they get fewer colds.
  • Please note: despite the name, colds are not caused by being in a cold environment.

Common Symptoms

  • Fever
  • Runny nose and congestion
  • Cough
  • Vomiting due to cough
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Sore throat

Treatment

  • Your child’s body knows how to beat the virus, and will do so in 10-14 days.
    • However, the symptoms may last for 3 total weeks (a full week after the virus is dead).
      • Antibiotics will not shorten this process or prevent secondary infections.
  • The symptoms of these viruses are not dangerous, but they can interrupt the ability to sleep and drink.
  • Even when the symptoms don’t prevent sleeping or drinking, it’s very difficult for caregivers to see their children suffering.
    • For this reason, an astounding amount of money goes into convincing caregivers that one product or another will fix these symptoms.
    • Thankfully, a great deal of research has been done to help us understand what may actually help your child, and what will not.
  • Please understand, these treatments we recommend below will not work in every situation.
    • Lack of improvement with these treatments is normal, and does not mean the infection is more serious than expected.
    • Concerning symptoms are discussed later in this article.

Fever (100.4 F)

  • Please read our article on fevers for complete details on this very misunderstood topic.
  • Although many children feel fine with a fever, the majority are quite uncomfortable.
  • In these situations, we treat the fever with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin).
  • We treat fevers so children can sleep and drink fluids to fight the virus, not because they are dangerous.
    • Treat your child based on their discomfort during a fever, not the fever number.

Nasal Symptoms (congestion, runny nose, sneezing)

  • These symptoms can be surprisingly bothersome, and frequently prevent a child from sleeping or drinking well.
    • When this happens we recommend the following, evidence-based remedies.
  • The color of the mucus/drainage is medically irrelevant, so please don't let this worry you at all.
    • Green, yellow, clear, mixed.

All Ages

Cool Mist Humidifier
  • Use these whenever possible (awake time and sleep)
  • Please avoid warm-mist humidifiers, as there is no evidence they are effective.
Hydration
  • Push fluids (breast milk, water) more frequently.
    • Don’t be alarmed if your child won’t drink when you offer these, however.
      • It simply means they aren’t thirsty at that time.
  • If your child is sick and goes longer than 8 hours without a wet diaper, please contact us immediately.
Saline Drops/Sprays Followed by Nasal Suction
  • While these treatments can be helpful, no one likes getting their nose sucked out.
  • Reserve this battle for times when your child is unable to sleep or eat due to the congestion.
Aromatice Vapors
  • External applications on the chest may be helpful for symptoms of cough and congestion.

12 Years and Older

First-line
  • All of the above.
Second-line
  • For older children whose symptoms do not respond to the supportive care remedies noted above, we recommend over-the-counter treatments with the active ingredients of pseudoephedrine of phenylephrine (Sudafed). 
  • Dayquil and Nyquil contain dextromethorphan, which is not recommended for children of any age.

Cough

All Ages

Hydration
  • Push fluids (breast milk, water, etc) more frequently.
    • Don’t be alarmed if your child won’t drink when you offer these, however.
      • It simply means they aren’t thirsty at that time.
  • If your child is sick and goes longer than 8 hours without a wet diaper, please contact us immediately.
Warm Fluids 
  • Warm breastmilk or formula.
  • Uncaffeinated tea (6-months and older).
  • Chicken-noodle soup (children who have started solid foods).
Aromatice Vapors
  • External applications on the chest may be helpful for symptoms of cough and congestion.

12 Months and Older

All Cough Remedies Listed Above
Honey
  • 1 teaspoon of honey given straight or diluted in warm water (honey tea) or lemonade is an effective cough suppressant.
  • Can be given as often as needed.
    • Especially before bed or after a coughing fit.

6 Years and Older

All Cough Remedies Listed Above
Lozenges
  • Please be sure your child can tolerate cough lozenges without choking.

Contagiousness

  • Common colds are very contagious, particularly in the first 2-4 days of symptoms.
  • Colds are spread by breathing in virus particles after an infected person sneezes/coughs, or by touching your mouth/nose after touching a contaminated surface.
  • Children should remain home from school or daycare until they are fever free without fever reducing medicine for 24 hours.  

Reach out to Modern Pediatrics…

Emergency: Contact us Immediately (Day or Night)

Red Flag Symptoms
  • Please read our article on the “red flag” symptoms which are always concerning to your pediatrician
    • The presence of these symptoms should prompt you to call us any time of day or night.

Croup

Non-Emergency (During the Day)

Fever Patterns of Bacterial Infections
  • Some fever patterns may indicate a bacterial infection (ear infection, pneumonia) has infected your child during the initial viral infection.
    • Fever lasting for more than 72 hours (the first day is day zero).
    • Fever starts suddenly in the middle of a viral infection.
    • Fever goes away for 24+ hours and then returns.
Symptoms have been constant for more than 4 weeks
  • In this case, constant means zero days where symptoms:
    • Seemed to be improving
    • Went away completely