We know that children can have between five and ten respiratory infections (colds, coughs and flus) per year and more often during the winter months. It’s also known that symptoms usually last seven to ten days (some cases up to three weeks), can make you felt pretty lousy, and are mostly caused by viruses.
This means that antibiotics are of no use. They will not help the symptoms improve faster, nor will antibiotics prevent spreading them to others, as antibiotics are not effective against viruses.
So the question on many parents’ lips is: What can I do to help my child with a cough, cold or flu whilst their own immune system kicks in?
The answer is this:
1. Let them rest
This is the body’s natural response and will focus their energy on getting well, so keep them home from school or pre-school, keep them warm, and let them sleep as much as they need.
2. Drink plenty of fluids
This helps replace fluids lost through fevers, vomiting or diarrhoea that can be associated with colds and flus, and staying hydrated can help loosen mucus.
3. A humidifier
A humidifier in the room can keep the air moist and assist with nasal congestion.
4. Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke
This can irritate upper airways, slowing down recovery speed.
5. Remedies your grandmothers used
Old fashioned remedies like ointments (containing camphor, menthol and eucalyptus) on hankies and scarves, as inhalations or applied to chests backs and feet, have effectiveness as cough suppressants and combatting upper airway congestion. Likewise, warm lemon and honey teas are highly effective for soothing sore throats. However, I have no doubt that the accompanying warmth and Tender Loving Care (TLC) with which these are given, are also of high therapeutic value.
6. Pain relief medications
Pain relief medications like Paracetamol and Ibuprofen can reduce a fever and treat the pain of a sore throat. Aspirin is not considered suitable for children under the age of sixteen years due to a rare but serious condition called Reye’s Syndrome. Always read the dosing instructions on medication packets.
7. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist
Always talk to your doctor before giving over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestant and cough medicines to children under two years of age. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medications should not be used in infants and children because of their lack of effectiveness in controlling symptoms, and the potential for significant side effects.
Preventing Colds and Staying Covid-19 Safe
The most effective method of preventing the spread of colds and flus is through ‘cough etiquette’. This means covering your mouth with your hand or a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of tissues thoughtfully, and washing your hands straight after, as viral particles travel easily via respiratory droplets in the air or by infected hands touching other things. The other more modern day alternative is sneezing into your elbow, as you won’t be shaking hands, touching hand rails, rubbing your eyes, or eating your lunch with your elbows, thus spread of infectious particles is far more limited.
Strengthen children’s immune systems by keeping them active, adding vegetables and fruits to their lunch boxes and plates, drinking water when thirsty, and providing plenty of encouragement and praise.
Finally talk to your local doctor about the need for certain influenza vaccines in Australia, which can be given from six months of age, especially in children with medical conditions such as severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes that can lead to complications from influenza.
So, next time your child has a cold or the flu remember that they are caused by viruses. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses, so they are not needed to treat cold and flu symptoms. Basic remedies to assist your immune system and make you feel better is key, as is preventing the spread of viruses in the first place . Your doctor may write you a script if you ask for them but bear in mind your natural immune system will fight the virus first.