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Colds: The Basics

The typical child catches five or six colds a year. Most colds last about a week to 10 days. Coughs may linger for a couple of weeks.

Colds are triggered by a variety of viruses. In fact, more than 200 viruses, all highly contagious, are suspected of triggering the combination of symptoms -- achiness, congestion, coughing and sniffles -- that define a cold. An infected person may cough or sneeze the germs into the air for another person to inhale, but most cold germs are spread by hand contact with items that an infected person has touched.

Typical cold symptoms include:

  • A runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • A non-phlegm-producing cough
  • A sore throat
  • Fatigue, and a general "out-of-sorts" feeling
  • A loss of appetite
  • Fever, occasionally

While you can't cure a cold, you can treat its symptoms to make your child more comfortable.

  • Run a cool-mist humidifier in your child's room, especially at night, to help him breathe more easily. Clean the humidifier daily to keep molds and other organisms from accumulating, using a mixture of white vinegar and water, or equal parts bleach and water.
  • Have your child blow his nose, or remove nasal secretion with drops and/or swabs and/or nasal syringe. Use saline nasal drops if stuffiness is interfering with his eating and sleep. Saline drops are nonmedicated and available at drug stores. Avoid using decongestant or medicated drops without checking with your doctor. You can also use a bulb nasal syringe, available at drugstores, or twirl a cotton swap in the lower part of each nostril, to remove nasal secretions if your child cannot blow his nose and the mucus is especially thick. Suction or swab secretions just after using saline nasal drops; the drops thin the secretions, making them easier to remove.
  • Offer plenty of fluids. Fluids help thin nasal secretions. Anectodal evidence indicates that chicken soup helps ease cold symptoms. Avoid giving your child milk products, which may increase mucus secretions.
  • Give your child a warm bath. Let him play in a slightly warm bath to ease breathing and help lower fever.
  • Give your child a pain reliever/fever reducer. Ask your doctor if she recommends acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and relieve achiness.
  • Elevate your child's head during sleeping. Place a pillow or several towels under the head of your child's mattress to raise his head slightly and aid in draining mucus from his nasal cavity. Do not use pillows directly under your child's head under the age of 2.