Frequent Colds in My Child – What Should I Do? by Dr. Sagar Bhattad

11 min read

By Dr. Sagar Bhattad, MBBS, MD Pediatrics
DM - Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital
7 years of experience

Frequent Colds in My Child

“Atchoo” , “God Bless You!” The minute you hear your child sneeze, this response is common among many parents. It is never a serious concern until you hear more of those sneezes within a short time span. When your child sneezes a few too many times, your parental alarm goes off. You know they are catching a dreaded cold and are going to be sick soon.

The common cold, as the name suggests. is very common among both adults and kids. There is nothing to be worried about unless there is some deadly virus doing the rounds. However, how frequently can a child catch a cold? How many colds a year is too frequent? When should you start worrying about your child’s common cold? Here are all the common and the not-so-common details you need to know about the common cold.

In This Article

What is a Cold in Children?

The common cold is a harmless viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract – the nose and throat. The symptoms we generally see – runny nose, sneeze, and coughs – are the body’s ways of fighting the virus that has entered the body.

For example, a sneeze is your body’s natural response to expel an unwanted intruder into the nose or the nasal lining. It is an immediate response by the immune system. So is the cough. When the throat is irritated, the body coughs and tries to expel the irritants and foreign invaders with that sudden burst of air from within.

There are a variety of viruses that can give your child a common cold.

Cold vs. Flu

cold vs fly symptoms

Are colds and flu one and the same? We can hear many people refer to cold and flu interchangeably.

No, though they have similar symptoms and are treated in a similar fashion, they are not the same. Flu is caused by a single virus – influenza; whereas colds can be caused by multiple viruses including parainfluenza, rhinovirus, seasonal coronavirus (don’t worry, this is not the dreaded Covid-19 causing virus), etc.

Colds are mild while the flu can be severe and affect a child in many ways. If you do not treat it in time, the flu can lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections, and other health complications that will require hospitalization.

So, how can you tell them apart?

You need to take a test. If your doctor suspects your child’s cold is more than just a regular common cold, they will prescribe tests. Only these can confirm if it is the flu or not.

What Causes Common Cold in Children?

Now, this is a difficult question to answer. There are more than 200 viruses that can give us a cold. When you inhale the air particles carrying any of these viruses, the virus can enter your body and latch itself to your mucous membrane, thus giving you a cold.

The four main groups of viruses that can give you a cold are:

  1. Human rhinoviruses
  2. Corona Viruses
  3. Adeno Viruses
  4. Parainfluenza Viruses

Among these four categories, the Rhinoviruses cause the most colds. This group has more than 100 different viruses and can thrive well at the temperature inside a human nose.

They spread easily and can survive up to 3 hours on surfaces. So, if a person affected with a cold touches a doorknob or a toy, you can catch that cold by touching the same book or knob even after 2.5 hours.

The other viruses are not so common but can cause severe infections in the lower respiratory tracts, especially in children and those with weakened immunity. Premature babies and children with compromised immunity or respiratory issues are at a higher risk of developing bronchitis or pneumonia.

Signs and Symptoms of a Cold in Kids

Symptoms of a Cold in Kids

Symptoms for a common cold do not appear immediately or before one catches a cold. It usually appears a few days later.

The most common symptoms of a cold are:

  • Nasal Congestion
  • Runny Nose (this can start with a clear discharge and as the cold progresses, it can turn into yellow or even green mucus)
  • Sneezing Frequently
  • Sore Throat
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Mild Fever
  • Body Ache

Your child need not show all the above symptoms. Just a runny nose can also mean it is a cold.

Are Common Cold in Children Contagious?

girl Sneezing Without Cover

Unfortunately, yes, they are highly contagious. When a person with a cold sneezes into the air, they release tiny air droplets and particles. These carry the virus and it can spread very quickly. It can fall on another person or land on a surface, which another person can touch.

Some of the common ways a cold tends to spread from child to child are:

1. Sneezing Without Cover

Kids tend to sneeze and cough without covering their nose and mouth – Though you may teach your kids to cough into their elbows or use a handkerchief when they want to sneeze; kids will be kids and will forget it most of the times.

2. Sharing Spoons or Straws

Kids tend to do this, especially when sharing food at school. Even if they are using their own spoons, these spoons may be contaminated with the virus, and when the other child touches them, he/she may contract the infection.

3. Contaminating a Surface

Kids will touch a runny nose and then touch other things with the same hand. Other children are bound to touch these and this is one of the most common ways the virus spreads among young children.

4. Hugs and Kisses

Kids love to touch one another and play. They do not have physical boundaries like adults. When a child with cold touches, hugs, or kisses another child, the virus can spread through both saliva or skin contact.

5. Closed Spaces

The virus can spread easily when there is not enough space around the children. The air droplets carrying the viruses can hang in the air, and when others inhale that or walk through that, the virus can enter their body.

How Long Do Colds in Children Last?

A common cold will generally last anywhere between one week and 10 days. While some people may recover early if their immune system is strong, others might take some extra time. Either way, the cold, in most cases, will not last more than ten days.

If the cold seems to last longer, you need to consult a doctor right away. It may not be just a common cold, it could be the flu or something else. Diagnosing it at the earliest will help a speedy recovery.

How is Common Cold in Children Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a cold is quite easy. Too many sneezes accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose and cough can indicate a cold. Though many other infections and allergies can have these symptoms, these are the classic symptoms of a cold.

If the doctor suspects your child might have a bacterial infection in addition to the common cold, they might prescribe tests and a chest X-ray.

What Are the Treatment Options For Cold in Children?

boy taking nasal spray for cold

Since a cold is a viral infection, a doctor will not prescribe any antibiotics for the cold as such. In severe infections, antibiotics will be prescribed to treat the other health issues caused by the cold (ear infection, body ache, etc.).

The doctor might prescribe the following in case of a severe cold that is having a serious impact on the child:

  • Paracetamol (pediatric) to relieve various pains such as sore throat, body aches, etc.,
  • Nasal sprays to relieve congestion in the nose (again only pediatric variant and should be used only for the number of days prescribed)
  • Cough syrups to help with the cold symptoms, such as cough and irritated throat. It cannot treat the viral infection itself. Even a mild overdose can be dangerous to a child

[Read : Are Nasal Sprays Safe For Kids?]

How to Prevent Common Cold in Children?

Can you really prevent that cold? Sadly, no; since it is not just one virus causing this common cold, which virus will you actively avoid or fight? As mentioned earlier, these viruses can survive for many hours on surfaces. It is not practically possible to live without touching surfaces others have touched.

Adults can be more cautious than kids. However, to prevent a child from catching a cold is not practically possible. Also, their immune system develops this way. Every time it fights a cold, it gets stronger and will fight better the next time. If the next cold is due to a different virus, the immune system learns to fight that too.

Home Remedies For Cold in Children

girl taking Steam Inhalation

When your child has a cold, it can be quite challenging to sit idle and watch them suffer. The doctor might give some over-the-counter medicines to treat the infection but not always. You cannot keep rushing to the doctor every time your child has a common cold.

Here are a few home remedies you can try, to help your suffering child:

1. Fluids

Drinking a lot of water and other fluids can help wash out the toxins. A runny nose and coughing up phlegm can be quite dehydrating. Encourage your child to keep drinking something warm and soothing for that ravaged throat.

2. Rest

You need to give the body the time to fight and recover. Ask your child to take more rest than usual. You cannot completely keep them in bed unless they are too ill to move. Encourage them to read a book or play indoors.

3. Humidifier

With the doctor’s consent, you can use a humidifier to help relieve the thick mucus inside the respiratory system. It can make it easier to cough out the phlegm.

4. Steam

Inhaling steam can again make it easier to cough up the thick phlegm. It can also relieve congestion and make it easier to breathe.

5. Ventilation

Keep the room well ventilated. If you are using the AC, ensure it is not too cold. If you are not using the AC, keep the doors and windows open for fresh air circulation. Ventilation can help remove the virus from the immediate environment.

6. Immunity-Boosting Foods

Food items such as ginger, garlic, citrus fruits rich in Vitamin C, etc., can help strengthen the immune system and help it fight the cold better.

Though these cannot prevent or cure a cold itself, they can help with the severity of the symptoms. It can also help the body bounce back to health sooner.

[Read : Immunity Boosting Foods For Kids]

Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medicines – Are They Safe For My Child?

girl taking cough medicine

Yes, they are safe as long as they are prescribed by a qualified doctor. You should refrain from medicating your child on your own. The doctor will prescribe medicines based on the possible virus causing the cold, your child’s age, weight, etc.

Since you cannot keep going to the doctor every time your child has a cold, it is a natural temptation to give the same medicine prescribed last time by the doctor. You can ask your doctor to prescribe something to give your child, the next time they have a cold. Sometimes, some medicines are given in a combination, and breaking this up may not have the same effect.

Similarly, too many medicines can also be dangerous. If you are using an over-the-counter cough syrup suggested by the doctor and are giving another similar medicine for a better effect, you could be putting your child at risk.

All these medicines will have similar ingredients and they are meant to be ingested only in limited dosage by a child. When you give multiple medicines, those ingredients’ dosage will increase, thus harming your child rather than helping them.

How to Reduce Frequency of Common Cold in Children?

Is your child catching a cold too often? Do you feel they are being medicated for the common cold just a little too frequently?

Though you cannot completely prevent your child from catching a common cold, especially if they are going to school and mingling with other children who might have a cold, you can reduce the frequency. You can inculcate habits to help them stay more hygienic and safe.

Here are some tips to help reduce that frequency:

  • Teach them to use a handkerchief at all times. Be it to sneeze, cough, or just wipe their nose.
  • Teach them how to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. Children can be impatient and just rub some soap on their hands and wash it off under running water. Teaching them how to wash their hands properly without missing out on their fingers and between the fingers is important.
  • Ask them to maintain a distance from a sick child. This can be tricky. A small child will not be very conscious of who is sick or not around them. Children can also be impolite when they ask a sick child to stay away from them and their things. So, this step is very limited in its effectiveness.
  • Encourage them to maintain an active lifestyle by running around, playing, exercising, etc. An active lifestyle can help their bodies and immune system get stronger and fight the cold better.
  • Feed them nutritious foods rich in essential nutrients that can help the immune system. If this becomes a habit as children grow up, their immune systems can be strong to fight many other infections too.

[Read : 10 Most Important Nutrients Needed For Strong Immune System in Kids]

When Should I Take My Child to the Doctor?

child with doctor for cold

A child’s immune system is still developing and learning to fight various infections. They are more prone to such infections than an average adult. So, if you notice your child catching a cold more frequently than you, don’t worry, it is perfectly normal. You don’t have to see a doctor for this.

However, if you notice your child seems to catch a cold more often than other kids their age or seems to have a cold all the time, you need to get it checked. Also, if even the smallest things seem to trigger a cold in your child, they may be allergic to certain environmental factors.

If your child shows any of the following, you need to seek medical attention at the earliest:

  • Fever above 100.4F in newborn – 12-week old babies
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Ear infection (repetitive colds can also cause this)
  • Consistent fever that seems to be rising
  • Overly fussy and uncomfortable
  • Very drowsy (without medication, medicines can make a child drowsy)
  • Loss of appetite (this can resolve as the cold reduces too)
  • Severe or consistent headaches

The cold is a common phenomenon we need to live with. You cannot prevent your child from catching a cold, no matter how hard you try. It is indeed good for their immune system as such exposures will only make it stronger. When they do catch a cold, do ensure they take their prescribed medications or follow home remedies for a speedy recovery. If needed, take them to the doctor. Do not worry unless the doctor tells you there is something to worry about!

FAQ’s

1. Why Does My Child Get so Many Colds?

Children have weaker immune systems than us adults. Their immune systems are still learning to recognize and fight various viruses. It will get stronger and better as they get older. Also children will not be as cautious as adults. Since they do not maintain any physical boundaries, the spread is easier.

Do not try to change this. This is what childhood is all about. Let them have fun and get stronger as nature intended them to.

Read Also: 10 Ways To Use Honey To Treat Cough And Cold In Children

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Dr. Sagar Bhattad, MBBS, MD Pediatrics
DM - Pediatric Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Aster CMI Hospital
7 years of experience

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