Monday Medical: Your child and the common cold |

Monday Medical: Your child and the common cold

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series on viruses that affect children in winter. Part 2 covers other viral illnesses, including flu.

Runny nose? Cough? Sore throat?

Your child might be dealing with the common cold.

Below, Dr. Patrick Grathwohl, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines six things to know about colds and your child.

Colds can be constant

There’s a reason these colds are called common.

“Under age 6, it is not uncommon for children to have up to eight colds per year and one per month from late fall to early spring,” Grathwohl said.

Since each individual cold can last up to two weeks, and most kids have symptoms for more than 10 days, it’s possible for children to have a runny nose and cough much of the fall, winter and spring.

But there is a silver lining. “As children get older, the number and duration of colds will often decrease,” Grathwohl said.

Colds cause congestion

The main symptom of a cold is nasal congestion, with clear, yellow or green mucus. Fever is common in the first few days of infection. Children may also have a sore throat, cough and enlarged lymph nodes and may be more irritable and have a decreased appetite.

About two-thirds of children who have a cold also have a cough.

“The cough is often the most concerning symptom to parents,” Grathwohl said. “Coughs can affect sleep, play, school performance and more. Coughs will usually linger for one to two weeks after other symptoms recede but should improve gradually over time.”

Rhinovirus cause

The rhinovirus, which has more than 100 different subtypes, is the virus responsible for most cases of colds. Other viruses that can cause colds include enterovirus and coronavirus.

While these viruses are more common in colder times, they are not caused by cold climates or cold air.

They typically spread by direct contact.

“Some can remain infectious on hard surfaces for up to one day, and direct droplet transmission can occur from coughing or breathing in proximity of others,” Grathwohl said.

A doctor visit may be necessary

Babies younger than 4 months old should be seen by a primary care provider for any cold symptoms. Children who also have labored breathing, a high fever and vomiting should be seen by a primary care provider.

“Monitor your child for signs and symptoms of dehydration,” Grathwohl said. “The most common sign is a decrease in urination or wet diapers.”

Colds can result in other infections

Sinus infections, which come with facial pressure and headache, may crop up after a cold. About 20% of children with a cold will also get a bacterial ear infection. And pneumonia may also arise.

“Usually, children with a secondary infection will develop a fever after the first three days of cold symptoms,” Grathwohl said. “Those with pneumonia will often have labored or rapid breathing and sometimes vomiting.”

Cold medicines aren’t for kids

“Treatment for children is often different than for adults,” Grathwohl said. “We do not recommend antihistamines, decongestants, cough medicines or expectorants in children, but these could possibly be beneficial for some older kids and adolescents on a case-by-case basis.”

Grathwohl recommends using saline nose drops or saline spray and suctioning the nose when needed. Honey may help with coughing but can only be given to children older than 1. Besides helping your child stay comfortable, make sure he or she is drinking enough.

 “Hydration should be a main area of focus for parents with most illnesses, including colds,” Grathwohl said.

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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