Caring for kids' colds

February 7, 2008 9:03:51 AM PST
More than 1 billion people will suffer through a cold this year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Children average between three and eight colds per year. Colds are the most common health reason that children miss school and parents miss work. They are most likely to occur during the winter months and, in warmer climates, during the rainy season. When a person has a cold, their sneezing, nose-blowing and runny-nose wiping spreads the virus. A person with a cold is most contagious in the first two to three days and is usually not at all contagious by day seven to 10. If you touch something that has been contaminated by the cold virus, then touch your nose, eyes or mouth, you can catch a cold. You can also catch a cold by inhaling the virus if you are in close proximity to someone who sneezes.

The three most common cold symptoms are:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • CHILDREN AND COLD MEDICATIONS: An FDA review of records filed with the agency between 1969 and September 2006 found 123 reports of deaths in children associated with cold medications, 54 reports of deaths in children associated with decongestant medicines made with pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine or ephedrine and 69 reported deaths associated with antihistamine medicines containing diphenhydramine, brompheniramine or chlorpheniramine. Most of the deaths involved children younger than 2. In October 2007, the FDA held hearings to consider whether to ban the sale of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for young children. Such a ban already has the support of safety experts at the FDA, who are in favor of restricting access to cold remedies, in light of statistics on the potential dangers. Sales of cough and cold medications are estimated at as much as $2 billion per year.

    WHAT'S AHEAD: Though cold medications for children younger than 2 have been voluntarily removed from many store shelves, there is no official ban on their sale. Cold medications for children older than 2 are still readily available at most pharmacies. Doctors who advise the FDA and some public health experts have asked the FDA to issue a ban on sale of these medications, but it could be as long as a year before the FDA makes a final decision.

    TREATMENT WITHOUT OTC MEDICATION: Harvard School of Medicine pediatrics professor Dr. Michael Shannon says acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the only medicines parents should be reaching for when their children come down with a cold. These medicines won't actually shorten the duration of the cold, but they can help reduce fever and ease aches and pains. Pediatricians say humidifiers and lots of fluids can help too. But, Dr. Shannon says there is no effective medication to "cure" a cold. For parents, he recommends TLC and a healthy dose of patience.