Coughs and colds are common during childhood. We take a look at causes, treatment and prevent, and what other ailments cough and cold symptoms could indicate.
What causes coughs and colds? Viruses – of which there are hundreds of types. Particularly when they start mixing with others, viral infections in children are incredibly common. A child averages six to eight coughs or colds a year. Children also pick up other viral infections that affect the airways much more readily than adults.
How do I know it’s a viral infection? The standard symptoms of a viral infection are predictable:
*Lack of appetite
Symptoms tend to get worse for two to four days and then start to ease, but the cough may hang on for up to four weeks after other symptoms have gone. If any longer, see your GP.
How can I treat it? There’s no simple cure for a cough or a cold or indeed the other similar viral infections, regardless of what the adverts claim! Antibiotics don’t work against viruses. But follow these steps to ease the symptoms:
*Make sure your child has plenty of fluids. If she’s more than 12 months old, give her warm water mixed with lemon and honey.
*Undress her to her nappy, or pants and vest.
*Give her paracetamol or ibuprofen regularly for fever, aches and pains (but avoid ibuprofen if there’s a history of asthma). Check the dose with your chemist. If her temperature stays high, give both medicines either together or alternately.
*With a baby, put a few drops of saline water (from the chemist) into her nose before feeding to ease breathing.
*If a child with a cough is short of breath or has difficulty breathing, take her to the doctor.
What else could it be? Croup
This usually affects children under 3 and is easy to spot. The child has a barking, hoarse cough. It’s not as bad as it sounds – the infection is rarely dangerous and can be dealt with at home, although you should see the GP to confirm the diagnosis. Encourage your child to spend time breathing in moist, steamy air, by having a warm bath or just sitting in the bathroom with the door closed and the hot tap running.
In children under six months, certain viruses can cause bronchiolitis. It’s more common in winter and early spring. It starts with an irritable cough that develops into a wheeze. There’s increased difficulty breathing and if this gets severe, your child should see the doctor.
If your child has a persistent cough mainly at night, it could be asthma. She may also be breathless or wheezy, particularly in the morning. See your GP or practice nurse.
This lung infection used to be common in children but is now quite unusual. 10% of cases are caused by bacteria, so can be treated with antibiotics. But for the other 90% there’s no treatment. However, if your child’s shortness of breath or difficulty breathing becomes serious, see your GP, who might arrange a chest X-ray.
Can I prevent it?Not really, except not to smoke at home if you do and to breastfeed your baby. Research shows both things are preventive to some extent.