The Kid’s Doctor
By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
Although it is just getting really cold across the country, it feels as if we have been in full cold and cough season for a while. The office sounds like what I call “kennel cough,” as every child seems to be coughing; even those who are just coming for checkups.
Parents often ask, “What is the best way to keep from catching a cold?” The answer continues to be: “Wash your hands, and try not to touch your hands to your eyes, nose and mouth.” Easy enough for an adult (well, maybe not), but trying to tell your toddler not to put their hands in their nose or mouth is nearly impossible! That is one reason children get so many colds in the first several years of life. Toddlers typically get the most colds, as they have just started having playmates with which they share not only toys but their germs. It’s all part of growing up.
I remind parents that coughs are there for a reason. While they are a huge nuisance, and cause a lot of sleepless nights for children and parents, a cough is there to keep the lungs clear, and a cough is actually protective. In other words, coughing helps you clear the lungs of mucous that comes with a cold; it also helps to prevent pneumonia and secondary infections. With that being said, learning to cover your mouth when you cough is not only polite, but it is also protective for others. It is a big day when your child learns to cover their mouth with the crook of their arm (better than the hand). Who knew, as a parent, this would be a milestone for your child?
Whenever your child has a cough and cold, it is important to not only listen to their cough but to actually observe how they are breathing. Parents send me videos or voicemails of their child coughing, but I am usually more interested in seeing their chest and watching their breathing. Your child may have a huge productive cough and sound terrible, but have no respiratory distress. Your child could also have a little non-productive cough and be struggling to breath. In most cases, the visual is more important than the audible.
The best treatments for a cold and cough continues to be the tried and true: Saline and suction to clear the nose of the mucous and make it easier to breath, a warm bath or shower before bed to loosen up the mucous, a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom and honey for the cough. Remember, you cannot use honey with a child under the age of 12 months.
Don’t panic if your child gets sick; each time they fight off a cold and cough, they are actually boosting their immune system. It is not unusual for a toddler to get six to seven colds in one season (and their parents get half as many as that from them). Once your child turns about 3, you will see that they don’t get a cold every other week and also seem to handle the viruses a bit more easily.
If your child has any difficulty breathing, call your pediatrician.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)