Your schoolchild’s colds

Close contact in the classroom means that the average schoolchild will have around three to eight colds per year. So how can you help your sick child feel better?

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How will your child catch a cold?

Most colds are caused by viruses, which are spread either through air droplets that can be breathed in, or by touching something that has been infected with the virus.

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Colds are most contagious the first two to four days after the symptoms appear.

What are the symptoms?

Your schoolchild may complain of having a runny nose, may sneeze a lot or have a tickle in their throat. These are the first symptoms of a cold. Other symptoms include headaches, cough, sore throat, fever (raised temperature), muscle ache, tiredness and loss of appetite.

Do you need to take your schoolchild to the doctor?

No. If your child has a common cold, the symptoms will usually clear up within one week, with some lasting two weeks.

While there’s no specific medicine to cure a common cold, paracetamol will relieve some of the symptoms like headaches and muscle ache, but always read the packet before giving to children.

You should take your child to your doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Coughing up lots of mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to keep food or liquid down
  • Severe and painful sore throat, that interferes with swallowing
  • Chest or stomach pains
  • Swollen glands
  • Earache

Should your child stay home from school when they have a cold?

Whether your child is too unwell to go to school is a question you’ll need to decide for yourself depending on your child’s symptoms.

As a general rule, if your child has a high temperature then it’s best for them to stay home from school for 24 hours and get plenty of rest. If your child’s going to miss a day (or more) of school, you’ll need to phone and let the school know.

If your child does go to school with a cold, they need to understand that the cold virus can be spread easily. Make sure they know to wash their hands regularly and sneeze into tissues and then throw the tissues away.

What can you do to help your child when they have a cold?

Paracetamol may relieve some of the cold symptoms, but before using any other over-the-counter cold remedies check with your doctor. 

Make sure your child keeps hydrated by drinking plenty of water or fresh orange juice, which contains Vitamin C.

It might be an idea to change your child’s bedtime when they’re suffering with a cold, as they will need lots of extra rest. Keep their bedroom airy and at a comfortable temperature so your child doesn’t get too hot.

If your child has a blocked nose you can try steam inhalation. Take your child into the bathroom and run a hot bath or shower with all the doors and windows closed. Sit with them while they breathe in the steam, which may help ease their blocked airways.

Can your child’s cold turn into anything more serious?

If you child has a very high temperature (over 38 degrees) and two or more of the following symptoms then they may have swine flu, which can sometimes follow a common cold:

  • Unusual tiredness
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Aching muscles
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

For most people, swine flu is a mild illness that can be treated with plenty of rest, water and paracetamol. However for a minority, the swine flu virus can cause severe illness, so if you think you or your child has the symptoms, call your doctor for a consultation over the phone.

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What other infections may your child catch at school?

Some other illnesses your schoolchild may catch include tonsillitis, verrucas, chickenpox, impetigo, ringwormear infections, diarrhoea, vomiting, molluscum contagiusm and threadworms.

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