By Dr. Katherine Vaughn

When school starts, so do the illnesses. On average, preschoolers have 6 to 8 colds and respiratory infections a year. Symptoms can last from 5 to 7 days, with some congestion lingering up to 2 weeks. These illnesses generally cluster between October and April, so parents often feel that their child goes from one cold to another, with a few healthy days in between. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause colds, so that while it often seems the same illness is returning, it’s more likely an entirely different virus.

Cold symptoms can include runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, sneezing, chills, fever and general achiness. Respiratory droplets spread colds; so sneezing, coughing, and touching objects after wiping or blowing your nose are all ways to spread colds. We see more illnesses in the winter, not because of cold weather itself but, in part, because people spend more time indoors.

There is no medication currently available to shorten the length of a cold virus, but some medications may help with symptoms. Ibuprofen or acetominophen helps sore throats, fevers, and general achiness. Decongestants and antihistamines may help with congestion, and you can try cough suppressants if the cough is keeping your child awake at night. Sleeping with the head elevated may also help.

Saline drops can help infants with congestion, and a vaporizer may aid as well. Parents of infants should check with their doctor before giving any medications.

Getting plenty of rest and fluids will help a child feel better. Tried and true home remedies such as tea with honey and lemon, and chicken soup are ways to increase hydration and soothe the throat (no honey to kids under 1 year of age).

The best way to decrease the spread of colds is good hand washing. Teaching children to cover their mouths when coughing, and using tissues can also reduce the risk of spreading illness.
Consider having your child seen by the doctor (or talking to their office) if

  1. Fever lasts more than 3 days

  2. Fever recurs after being gone greater then 24 hours

  3. Nasal discharge lasts more than 14 days

  4. They complain of earache

  5. Difficulty breathing not related to the nose

  6. You feel your child is more ill than they should be with a cold

The presence of green or yellow nasal drainage is not necessarily an indicator of bacterial infection. Many viruses will cause discolored nasal drainage, and can be normal for up to 10-14 day.

Last of all, remember—it’s normal to catch colds at this time of year.


Important disclaimer: The information on pkids.org is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.

In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.

Harold S. Kushner