Disclaimer – This article is only to be used for informational purposes only, and does not replace the need to consult a health care professional to discuss the most suitable treatment for your child.
Pharmamum’s Ultimate Guide: Colds
Are you at the stage where your baby/toddler has started child care? They are there for a week, get sick, recover, go back to daycare for a week and then get sick again? The cycle just keeps repeating and repeating? Well, I hope it gives you some reassurance that you are not alone and it can be a very frustrating and exhausting time for parents when your baby starts childcare. On the positive note, you are are building up your child’s immune system and by the time they are in kinder, colds will be less prevalent.
Young children can catch between 6 to 12 colds a year and the younger they are, the more likely they are to catch a cold. Younger children haven’t built up their resistance to all the different cold viruses and there are hundreds of them. That’s why, unfortunately, we can’t be vaccinated against the common cold. Colds are most contagious in the first one to two days once symptoms have developed. They spread via coughing, sneezing and contact. I used to cringe when I would drop my daughters off at creche and I would see a child pick something up, put it in their mouths and then my daughter would pick it up and put it in her mouth, I would think, ‘here we go, next week we’ll be home again!!’
Most common colds usually last a week, however a cough can last for longer. Your child may have a runny nose, blocked nose, cough, sore throat, occasional fever, red eyes and lose their appetite.
There is no treatment to cure a cold unfortunately, and these days when you walk into a pharmacy to purchase some medicine for your baby/child, you get told, that we can no longer give children under 6 years of age any oral cold and cough medication. This is true, as there are reports of serious adverse effects with the use in infants and children under six. Products containing antihistamines, antitussives, expectorants or decongestants are not recommended to be given to young children. Some examples of these are: Dimetapp, Demazin, Robitussin and Duro-Tuss. There is no evidence that they work in that age group and can cause side effects, such as allergic reactions, effects on sleep, hallucinations and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. For 6 to 12 year olds, these medicines will continue to be available to them because the risks of side effects are reduced in older children because they weigh more, get fewer colds and can say if the medicine is making them feel better.
So what’s a parent to do when they have a miserable child who is coughing, spluttering and struggling to sleep through the night? The following is a list that will hopefully give you options and some relief as a parent in managing a cold, and help relieve their symptoms making your child feel as comfortable as possible whilst suffering with a cold.
1) Give your baby/toddler/child Paracetamol/Ibuprofen every 6 hours to relieve a fever or headaches for up to 48 hours if the child is uncomfortable. Whilst paracetamol is the first option recommended to treat fever, most infants and children can tolerate a low-grade fever (eg 38–38.5°C) well. They often respond to fluids and comfort, and may not need medication. When I was growing up my parents would check my temperature and as soon as it was over 37 degrees celsius, I would be given Paracetamol. This was the done thing, but today it is recommended to leave a temperature if it doesn’t bother your child because it is your body’s response to fight off the virus by raising their body’s temperature. However if your child is really bothered and irritated by the fever I would definitely recommend to give the Paracetamol. Often I will find both of my girls playing and doing there own thing still whilst running a high temperature.
There is no benefit in combining or alternating paracetamol with ibuprofen for treatment of fever. It is not recommended because the added complexity can increase dosing errors. Be aware there are different strengths of Paracetamol and dose according to weight not age.
2) Make your baby/child feel comfortable– Often a baby with a blocked nose, congestion, cough can feel quite distressed and anxious suffering with these symptoms. It may even be your baby’s first cold so do be mindful they will need extra cuddles and affection. This also applies in the middle of the night when they may wake themselves coughing and often quite upset if experiencing a blocked nose. It’s a sensation that can even distress us when we are unwell. So sit them up for a minute offer them water, if they push it away sometimes the only thing that may settle them may just be a breastfeed or bottle, this will maintain their hydration and just comfort them.
3) Nasal saline sprays– The nasal sprays come in a few different brands Fess, Flo etc. They allow you to clear your child’s nose of discharge and ease a blocked nose. You can even give them to your baby whilst they are feeding to be sure it will be inhaled. My personal preference for a baby is the Flo brand of saline sprays, because it’s a gentle spray or drop, you can spray it at any angle, you don’t need an aspirator, it’s preservative free and the design of the bottle is easy to hold and use whilst trying to give it to your baby. These sprays are great because they can come as just saline or some of them come with eucalyptus for older children/adults to help a blocked nose.
4) Using a vaporiser in your baby’s room whilst they are sleeping allows for a more peaceful nights sleep. In children under 2 years, I would recommend just water in the vaporiser as the steam is what makes the child breathe easier and I would not recommend the use of menthol/eucalyptus inhalant liquids in the vaporiser until your baby is over 2 years of age, due to the risk of the eucalyptus concentration building up in the room to toxic levels and risking airway spasm. I can understand if you think, how is a vaporiser going to help, but you really do need to try it, to see how it helps. If you can compare it to how you feel when you go for a walk into the brisk cold air and feel your airways tighten vs how you feel when you are in a warm hot bath and how you can take much deeper breaths. The atmosphere, temperature, and humidity in particular, can really affect our lungs and how we breathe. Steam therapy is a natural, gentle and effective method to help keep airways clear and alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu. I would also recommend on those cold nights, if you have heating, to make your child’s bedroom temperature around 19-20 degrees, just for the same reason, it stops the cold air hitting the lungs and tightening. When moist, warm air enters the lungs it helps to ‘liquefy’ mucus secretions and phlegm, making them easier to expel. This in turn helps keep the lungs and airways clear, making it easier to breathe. There are different brands of vaporisers available on the market, Vicks and Eukybear both make them. I have both at home and they both are as effective as each other, the only difference is the Eukybear vaporiser is a lot quieter.
5) Using a Eucalyptus baby balsam (ie. Vick’s baby balsam) which contains very low concentrations of eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender and aloe vera rubbed on the side of child’s pajamas works really well to relieve a blocked nose. Also rubbing the balsam on their feet and putting on socks works really well to relieve a cough. My four year old daughter recently had a cough that was waking her during the night and I put the Vicks baby balsam on her feet with socks on, and tucked her into bed. I didn’t hear a peep from her but she came out of her room half an hour later saying, ‘mummy these socks are annoying me’, so I said, ‘If they are really bothering you take them off’, she went back to bed and was coughing and coughing. She came back out and said to me’ Mummy I think I better put the socks back on’. I didn’t hear a cough from her for the rest of the night. I can’t tell you the reason how or why it helps a cough but it just does. So its worth a try.
6) Honey- Once your child is over one year of age you can give them a teaspoon of honey to coat the lining of the throat which helps reduce the tickle which sets off a cough. Even make your own cough mixture with some warm water, a teaspoon of honey and squeeze some lemon juice.
7) Fluids– Staying hydrated is very important when fighting infections (especially if your child has a fever) ie plenty of water, nice warm chicken soup, vitamin C packed fresh juices etc.
8) Vitamin C– Ongoing vitamin C use has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of colds in children. (All berries, Kiwi fruit and Oranges contain the highest amount of Vitamin C in fruit.)
9) Herbs- As a pharmacist when asked about natural herbs and complementary medicine, the most common answer you will hear is, ‘there is not enough information/evidence from good quality clinical trials to show that vitamin or mineral supplements or herbal medicines help or treat, but it’s up to if you want to try it’. That is true to an extent but it does depend on which herb/supplement/vitamin we are discussing. A lot of complementary medicines, herbs and vitamins have now had a substantial amount of clinical trials carried out, and in Australia are classified by the Therapeutics Goods of Australia as an AUST R product. This means they have to provide the board satisfactory assessments of their quality, efficacy and safety. So if you were to take a product off the shelf and notice it has Aust R on the back of the label, you will be satisfied in your own mind that this product has had significant clinical trials and has proved it does what it says on the label, not just ‘may relieve’ or may reduce the severity.’
One such product which has been registered in Australia as an Aust R product is a medication called Prospan. Prospan contains a herb called Hedera helix. It is a clinically proven cough treatment whicheases the urge to cough and soothes a cough. It helps to break down mucus and clears the chest. Being a herbal treatment, we often think it is perfectly safe, no side effects, no interactions. This is unfortunately incorrect. Herbal medicines just like conventional medicines can and do come with side effects. Prospan can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea in 2% of the population. When my youngest daughter takes it for a nasty cough, chesty or dry,it works really well and she will often have a good night sleep with minimal coughing, however when my eldest daughter takes it, it relieves her cough but unfortunately she is one of the 2% of the population who have gastrointestinal side effects from Hedra Helix (Prospan) and unfortunately vomits after taking it. Some children may get diarrhoea or vomiting from it, however it only affects 2% of children. So its worth a try if your child doesn’t suffer with any side effects from taking Prospan.
10) Child-friendly Solutions
My four year old daughter absolutely loves these, but I have to put them high up, out of sight in the medicine cabinet, they are made by the company All Natural and called, All natural Kids cough and Kids cold lollipops which are a homeopathic remedy and contain no sugar, just natural flavour and colour and you can get them from most pharmacies. They really help her symptoms if she has a cold or cough plus just lubricating the throat really helps too. Remember lollipops are a choking hazard, so be aware of your own child’s ability to be able to suck on a lollipop, they are recommended for children 2 years up.
Please be aware that the above treatment is for the common cold and occasionally there can be complications ie an ear infection, croup, bronchiolitis, pneumonia etc If your child has a high fever for longer than 48 hours, that is not being brought down by paracetamol or your child refuses to take fluids, vomits frequently, has a severe headache, difficulty breathing, very lethargic, sleepy or a rash on the body, please see a doctor as soon as possible. A baby younger than 3 months must be seen by a doctor immediately because it is hard to tell if they have a more serious illness.
Stay tuned for my next blog which focuses on Probiotics and tips for boosting your child’s immune system.
Please feel free to leave comments on this blog and if there are any questions I am more than happy to answer them. Also if you tried a remedy that worked well for your children that was or wasn’t mentioned above, let me know. I hope this information does help.