Home Care Advice for Colds
For a Runny Nose With Profuse Discharge: Blow or Suction the Nose
- Because there are so many viruses that cause colds, it's normal for healthy children to get at least 6 colds a year. With every new cold, your child's body builds up immunity to that virus.
- Most parents know when their child has a cold, often because they have it too or other children in child care or school have it. You don't need to call or see your child's doctor for common colds unless your child develops a possible complication (such as an earache).
- The average cold lasts about 2 weeks and we don't have any medicine to make it go away sooner.
- However, we have good ways to relieve many of the symptoms. With most colds, the initial symptom is a runny nose, followed in 3 or 4 days by a congested nose. The treatment for each is different.
Nasal Washes To Open a Blocked Nose:
- The nasal mucus and discharge is washing viruses and bacteria out of the nose and sinuses.
- Blowing the nose is all that's needed.
- For younger children, gently suction the nose with a suction bulb.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the nasal openings to protect them from irritation (cleanse the skin first).
Fluids: Encourage your child to drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration. This will also thin out the nasal secretions and loosen any phlegm in the lungs.
Humidifier: If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier.
Medicines for Colds:
- Use saline nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If not available, can use warm tap water.
- STEP 1: Instill 3 drops per nostril. (Age under 1 year, use 1 drop and do one side at a time)
- STEP 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril separately, while closing off the other nostril. Then do other side.
- STEP 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear.
- Frequency: Do nasal washes whenever your child can't breathe through the nose.
- Saline nasal sprays can be purchased without a prescription.
- Saline nose drops can also be made: Add 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt to 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm water.
- Reason for nose drops: suction or nose blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus.
- Another option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow each nostril.
- For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
- Importance for a young infant: can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open.
Treatment for Associated Symptoms of Colds:
- Cold medicines are not recommended at any age. (Reason: they are not helpful. They can't remove dried mucus from the nose. Nasal washes can.)
- Antihistamines are not helpful, unless your child also has nasal allergies.
- Decongestants: OTC oral decongestants (Pseudoephedrine or Phenylephrine) are not recommended. Although they may reduce nasal congestion in some children, they also can have side effects.
- Age Limit: Before 4 years, never use any cough or cold medicines. (Reason: unsafe and not approved by FDA) (Avoid multi-ingredient products at any age.)
- No Antibiotics: Antibiotics are not helpful, unless your child develops an ear or sinus infection.
Contagiousness: Your child can return to child care or school after the fever is gone and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities. For practical purposes, the spread of colds cannot be prevented.
Expected Course: Fever 2-3 days, nasal discharge 7-14 days, cough 2-3 weeks.
Call Your Doctor If:
- Fever or Pain - Use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for muscle aches, headaches, or fever above 102° F (39° C).
- Sore Throat - Use warm chicken broth if over 1 year old and suck on hard candy if over 6 years old.
- Cough - Give honey 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (2 to 5 ml) for younger children over 1 year old and use cough drops for children over 6 years old.
- Red Eyes - Rinse eyelids frequently with wet cotton balls.
Extra Advice: Air Travel With Colds
- Earache suspected
- Fever lasts over 3 days
- Any fever occurs if under 12 weeks old
- Nasal discharge lasts over 14 days
- Cough lasts over 3 weeks
- Your child becomes worse
Extra Advice: Prevention of Ear Congestion During Air Travel
- It's safe to fly when your child has a cold.
- He could develop temporary ear congestion or earache, but that's often preventable.
- It's unusual to develop an ear infection, unless your child already is prone to frequent ear infections. However, that's not a reason to avoid flying.
- Most symptoms occur during descent of the aircraft (the 15 minutes before landing)
- Stay awake during takeoff and descent
- Swallow during descent using fluids or a pacifier
- Children over age 4 can chew gum during descent
- Yawning during descent also can open the middle ear
- Stay well hydrated throughout the flight to prevent the nasal secretions from drying out
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For more information, click here.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. Clinical content review provided by Senior Reviewer and Healthpoint Medical Network.
Last Review Date: 6/1/2011
Last Revised: 8/1/2011 2:54:12 PM
Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
Version Year: 2012
Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.