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How to Survive the Sniffles

Colds are caused by viruses, easily passed by person-to-person contact.

"Someone with a cold rubs his or her nose then touches your hand," says Jack M. Gwaltney Jr., M.D., an epidemiologist. "As soon as you touch your nose or wipe your eyes, you're infected."

Protect yourself

Because cold viruses enter the body through the nose, mouth and eyes, you can protect your child most effectively by keeping his or her hands away from those areas. These preventive measures also help:

  • Wash hands often, especially after playing with other children, shaking hands with someone who has a cold or touching things used by a person with a cold. When water isn't available, try using alcohol-based products made for sanitizing hands.

  • Teach children to use disposable tissues and throw them away.

  • Move away from someone who is coughing or sneezing. The spray that may carry the virus travels about three feet before falling to the ground.

  • Keep your child's face clean. Keep long hair out of eyes.

  • Wash eyeglasses often with water or cleaning solution. Avoid sharing eyeglasses, sunglasses or goggles. Always wash hands before touching contact lenses.

Soothe the symptoms

"Not everyone infected with a cold virus gets sick," Dr. Gwaltney says. "You may help your immune system fight a virus by getting enough rest and exercise and by keeping stress at a manageable level."

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend giving OTC cough medications to children under two years of age, because these medicines may cause harmful side effects that can be life-threatening. Always consult your child's physician for advice before giving OTC cold medication to children younger than 6 years of age. If your child develops a cold, there are still a few self-care treatments that may soothe your child's symptoms:

  • For stuffy and runny noses, use saline nose drops.

  • To soothe a sore throat, mix a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle, or use throat lozenges with topical anesthetics.

  • To relieve muscle aches and fever, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • Apply petroleum jelly or lip-chap ointment to a raw, red nose. Both products act as a protective barrier between sensitive areas and nasal secretions.

When to call a doctor

Most colds get better in five to seven days without medical attention. However, call your child's pediatrician if your child has:

  • symptoms that seem especially severe or different from those your child usually experiences with a cold

  • a cold that lasts longer than usual

  • a fever of 101 degrees F or higher that lasts more than three days

  • trouble breathing or swallowing

  • severe ear pain

  • a cough that produces thick, green, rusty or odorous mucus or sputum

  • has large swollen glands

Colds can lead to sinus infections. See your doctor if you have sinus pain or headache after you have had a cold.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chang, Alice MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith, RN, MSN, FNP, CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lambert, J.G. M.D.
Online Medical Reviewer: Lee Jenkins
Date Last Reviewed: 10/9/2009
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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