A “cold” is an infection in which the main symptom is a runny nose. This is the least serious and most common respiratory illness, and is usually viral. Ordinarily the nasal discharge starts clear and watery, gradually thickens, becomes yellow or green for a few days, then dries up. Often this is accompanied by fever, discomfort, sneezing, and a mild cough. Some children are prone to nosebleeds with a cold – these should be treated with direct pressure (squeeze the nose firmly where the bone ends for 10 minutes). Many of the viruses which cause a cold may also lead to loose bowel movements and a faint red rash. Although there is no medicine to kill or halt a viral infection, the following can help alleviate the discomfort:
- Use a cool mist vaporizer (well cleaned regularly with bleach) to help soothe irritated nasal passages and keep secretions loose. Elevating the head of the bed may help some children sleep better as well.
- For infants less than one year who have difficulty breathing through the nose and for whom a cold may therefore interfere with feeding, use a bulb syringe to suction the nose clear. This may be done as often as necessary, but is particularly helpful just before feeding. Instilling some saline nose drops (Ocean, Ayr, NaSal, many other brands) prior to suctioning may make this job easier. A good seal between the syringe and the nostril is necessary for suctioning to be effective. Avoid aggressive deep suctioning. This may cause swelling from irritating the inside of the nose and worsen congestion.
- As a general rule, we do not recommend over the counter decongestant/anti-histamine ‘cold’ preparations in children under 2 years. In older children, the benefit should be weighed against potential side effects such as drowsiness or irritability,
- DO NOT use over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays unless specifically instructed by a medical provider. Saline nasal sprays are fine to use. Rub on preparations such as Vicks have no scientifically proven efficacy, but are harmless and fine to use.
Consider seeking medical attention if the runny nose continues for more than two weeks or if your child is becoming more ill with new symptoms such as cough, or fever.