The Common Cold

Whoever says a “cold” isn’t caused by the cold obviously doesn’t have children. Whenever autumn comes, and especially if the temperature is see-sawing up and down, be prepared for your child to get their first cold. Especially if they forget their jacket and you see them with that signature Rudolph nose. The sniffling and coughing is probably coming within 24 hours. Same with spending time in a playgroup like the library or Sunday School. When other kids have colds around them, they’ll probably pick something up within 72 hours. (Not to be grim, it’s just true!)

Fortunately, if what they contract is just a cold, little children can make a rapid turn-around if you jump on it. They don’t have to get to that moany, listless, feverish stage. Most people know the common cold is actually caused by a virus which is why you can’t kill it with medicine, and why you don’t get immune. Furthermore, there are over 100 viruses that cause cold symptoms so even if you could get immune to one, you’d probably just pick up a different one. The AAP says that the average child picks up 8 to 9 colds a year, and my pediatrician says it is not uncommon (here in our freezing city) to feel like your child was sick all winter. They probably weren’t, but they picked up 3 or 4 different viruses in succession which appeared the same. When you combine that with the ability of a toddler’s nose to run forever, you think they’re always sick. But they really needn’t be “sick, sick” if you act.

The first sign of a cold in one of our kids, and I immediately give them a bath, change their sheets, add an extra vitamin, and eliminate sugar and milk from their diet. Sugar compromises the immune system (unnatural sugar, that is), and milk is a mucus-producing agent. The nose and chest will get better if they stay on water until their running nose and cough heals. I give them lots of water (or Gatorade) in small bits throughout the day, and I add at least one extra nap (for less time if necessary). Usually their appetite drops, so that works with me. And I try to keep them warm and still as much as possible for 24-48 hours (a sweater, socks, television/videos, puzzles, whatever). If I do this, the child normally turns around with just a clear runny nose and maybe a dry cough at night to knock.

You can’t really keep your house germ-free with little children because they cough and sneeze a lot, get their runny nose on your clothes, and put their little hands everywhere. Plus, you are the mom and staying with them, loving them, cleaning them is your job. But making some attempt to clean house (especially knobs, phones, keyboards/mouse, and toys) with bleach wipes or Lysol spray is probably wise. Also washing your hands a lot and/or using sanitizer. But remember, viruses aren’t bacterial, so the best preventative measure is normal and regular washing, keeping your hands away from your eyes/nose/mouth, and keeping your immune system healthy with a good diet. Try and do this with everyone in your house while someone is sick, and you should reap at least a little better situation than if you did nothing.

Also, turn up the heat if necessary. While most Americans are energy- or money-wise in the winter and try to keep the thermostat down at night, the cold is not going to help anyone get well once they are sick. It will only prolong it, especially a cough. In the same way that the immune system is compromised initially to contract a cold, it can stay compromised when trying to fight it off if the temperature is too low. I’m not saying to make your house a sauna, but there is a reason why all the elderly flock to Florida and why Boston and Chicago hospitals are overfull during the winter! (My nurse friend actually only gets one holiday out of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years because our hospitals are so overworked, but she gets random time off in the summer when admission is so low they don’t need her). I think the cold constricts nasal passages and blood vessels, which has something to do with it. Warm temperatures causes good blood circulation and better release of toxins, which is why they have saunas at spas and massage parlors. So keep the bedrooms warm and humid, and you’ll probably gain at least a day or two of progress.

Just FYI, little babies and toddlers can get fevers when they’re getting sick, and you should give them Tylenol (acetaminophen) to reduce it if it is over 100 or if it seems like they might have pain. Under 100 is not as dangerous to the child and may actually help you contain them since they won’t feel like running around—use your own judgment. (Fevers also reduce the appetite and may cause vomiting if you force a child to eat, even something benign like Cheerios.) With the children’s medicine issue these days, I’d say Tylenol is still pretty safe and usual to give if your little one is suffering. But I’d probably stay away from more powerful cold medicines with dextromethorphan or phenylephrine/pseudoephedrine if my baby was young.

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One thought on “The Common Cold

  1. I’d like to add that sleep is a key factor in our house. Our kids sleep something like 12 hours every night. This has really helped them stay healthy even when we are not because their bodies have a lot of time to recover.

    In addition, I like to try to prevent them from running around like animals. If someone is getting sicker, then making them lay down and watch a video is a helpful way to get some rest. Extra water is good for them too!

    I think an overarching principle we’re talking about here is that if they get sick, helping their bodies fight it is the best medicine you can possibly apply in most cases. Your God-designed immune system is vastly superior to cough syrup, so work with it.

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