It’s cold season, which means that our kiddos are at risk of catching those nasty winter respiratory viruses. In fact, young children get an average of six to eight colds a year, according to the American Lung Association.
If you find yourself caring for a child with a cold or respiratory symptoms, here are some guidelines to help them feel better and get extra care when they need it.
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Is it a cold …
More than 200 viruses cause cold symptoms, including rhinovirus, influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
One to three days after exposure to a respiratory virus, symptoms start developing:
• runny nose
• scratchy or sore throat
• lack of appetite
With a cold, babies and young kids are more likely than teens and adults to also run a low fever.
Most colds clear up on their own and don’t lead to anything worse. For babies under three months, however, it’s best to call your primary-care provider at the onset of any cold symptoms. That’s because respiratory illnesses can quickly become serious in infants.
… or something worse?
Sometimes colds develop into more serious illnesses, like bronchiolitis, croup or pneumonia. Call your primary-care provider if your child’s symptoms include any of the following:
• trouble breathing, including fast breathing or nostrils opening wide with each breath
• lips or nails turning blue
• ear pain
• temperature over 102 degrees
• cough that isn’t going away after a week
• runny nose after 10 days
• dramatic sleepiness or irritability
RSV, especially, can make children very sick. About 3% of infants with RSV may require a hospital stay, with supplemental oxygen to help them breathe and IV fluids to keep them hydrated. You should suspect RSV has turned into bronchiolitis if your baby is breathing fast, wheezing, flaring their nostrils or bobbing their head while breathing, or grunting with each breath, or if you notice the skin above their breastbone, between their ribs or below their ribs caving in with each breath.
Again, call your doctor or go to urgent care or the emergency room if your child of any age is having trouble breathing.
Helpful home treatments for colds
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the common cold, but you can help make your child more comfortable. Lots of rest and extra fluids are essential.
In addition, you can try:
• a saline nasal spray
• a rubber suction bulb to pull clogged mucus from the nostrils of babies
• a humidifier in the child’s room
• honey — but only for kids older than 12 months! It can cause botulism in babies.
• cough drops for kids 4 and up
• mentholated ointment for kids 2 and up
If your child age 2 or older has a fever, you can give either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) at the appropriate dose. Do not give children aspirin, and avoid over-the-counter cough and cold medicines because they have been shown to be ineffective and can even be harmful in young kids.
For kids under 2, call your primary-care provider before giving any medicine.
Immunization for RSV
There’s a new immunization to protect babies against RSV. Called nirsevimab, or Beyfortus, it’s currently in short supply but is available to babies who weigh less than 11 pounds, are younger than six months old (even if they weigh more than 11 pounds), or are at high risk of serious illness. Palivizmab is another RSV protection available to children under age 24 months who have certain health conditions.
If you recently gave birth and were vaccinated against RSV during your pregnancy, your baby is likely already protected against RSV this season. If you’re pregnant right now, it’s recommended that you receive the RSV vaccine any time between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.