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Take a new environment, like summer camp or daycare, mix in a “bug” (typically rhinovirus), and you have all the makings of a summer cold.
Nine months out of the year, your kids are around the same people on a daily basis. Come summer, they are exposed to new environments and new people, which exposes them to new viruses, increasing their risk for the unwanted summer cold, says Jared M. Skowron, N.D., professor of pediatrics and author of The Fundamentals of Naturopathic Pediatrics.
Once your child has caught a cold, expect it to last about a week to 10 days, says Gregg M. Alexander, D.O., practicing general pediatrician at Madison Pediatrics in London, OH. “Symptoms usually peak around three to five days, which is also when colds are most contagious, though the contagious period can last up to three weeks.” (The best way to prevent a cold from spreading is to wash hands often and keep your child’s hands away from her face since the eyes, nose and mouth are the most common places for germs to get into the body.)
Still, while the cold may persist for a week or more, the symptoms can be treated so your child feels better faster.
Dr. Alexander says the “less is more” rule applies when it comes to symptom relief. “The problem with [over-the-counter medications] is that they tend to slow down the body’s natural healing efforts,” he says.
If the symptoms are making your child miserable -- especially if he is unable to sleep -- it may be worth the trade-off, since “sleep and rest are vital for keeping the defenses strong.” Otherwise, he recommends limiting the use of medications to target specific symptoms.
Children’s ibuprofen can help with fevers, aches and pains. Kids over two can take cough medicine for coughs or a decongestant for stuffy noses, which can help them get the sleep their bodies need to beat the bug. But Dr. Alexander advises skipping antihistamines for runny nose, since the drainage can be beneficial. Try a cool mist humidifier instead to help clear breathing passages.
Plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray or drops, a neti pot, and a healthy diet (think chicken soup, fruit and vegetables) will also speed the healing process. Probiotics, commonly found in yogurt, can help boost the immune system as well, says Dr. Skowron.
Dr. Alexander also recommends limiting activity for the first few days. That will not only give your child a chance to heal, but will also keep the cold virus from finding new targets.
One note: Before you start treating cold symptoms make sure you aren’t dealing with allergies. How can you tell the difference? The symptoms -- runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, cough -- may be similar, but allergies generally don’t produce fevers, according to Dr. Alexander. If you’re not sure, though, call a doctor.
Other Reasons to Call the Doctor
While most colds will resolve themselves with minimal treatment, check with your doctor if:
- your child seems very ill, is wheezing or having trouble breathing.
- the cough is frequent, “barky,” or makes your child choke or vomit (it could be pertussis, known as whooping cough).
- your child isn’t drinking enough or urinating normally.
- your child has a fever of 103 or more.
Other signals that warrant a call to the doctor include ear pain or thick drainage from the ear or eye, a very sore throat or a fever that lasts longer than three days or returns after a few days’ absence.
A typical summer cold shouldn’t slow your child down for too long. The worst symptoms should subside in less than a week, so your kid can go back to having summer fun. Just make sure he washes his hands first.