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Dr. Ahmed: Common colds and our children

Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed, Our Town Contributor

Runny nose, nagging coughs and sleepless nights alert us to the fall and winter seasons when respiratory viruses take their greatest toll.

The common cold (also known as “upper respiratory tract infection” or URI) is one of the most frequent childhood illnesses. The average preschooler has six to 10 colds per year.

Colds are transmitted in a variety of ways — at home, in school and at child-care settings. Studies showed the rhinovirus (which is responsible for one-third to one-half of all colds) is often present on the hands of infected individuals and that the virus is efficiently transferred from an infected person’s hand to another person’s hand during brief contact and from that person’s hand to his nose and eyes. Rhinovirus can survive on human hands for up to two hours and on environmental surfaces for several days. The virus can be removed from hands easily by washing or even rinsing.

The signs and symptoms of colds are basically “misery in many forms!” It begins with constitutional complaints, including fever, headache and body ache as upper airway inflammation progresses, nasal stuffiness, sneezing, sore throat and cough develop. Initially, nasal discharge is clear and watery, but it becomes thickened and colored over the first few days of illness. Although the symptoms of most common colds are mild or moderate and resolve in a week or so, complications may occur.

Eustachian tube dysfunction may lead to earache and transient hearing loss, secondary to fluid buildup in the middle ear. Sinusitis is another possible complication of the common cold. Persistence of a runny nose — thin or thick, green or clear — for longer than 10 days should alert us to the possibility of complicating sinusitis. Colds also can lead to wheezing in susceptible children with asthma.

Unfortunately, little scientific evidence supports the efficacy of the over-the-counter products for relieving symptoms of colds in children. Not only that, but over-the-counter products can sometimes have dangerous side effects.

Antibiotics have no effect on the common cold, unless the child has otitis media (ear infection) or sinusitis, which sometimes accompany or follow colds.

The best treatment for colds is to be patient and try to keep your child as comfortable as possible. Be sure to give your child plenty of fluids to drink. You may use Tylenol, or Motrin/Advil to treat bothersome pain and fever.

Using saline nose drops or spray helps to relieve the stuffy nose. Also, using humidified air and methanol vapor might help to relieve nasal congestion.

You should call your doctor if your child is:

-- Breathing harder or faster than usual;

-- fussy or complains of earaches;

-- wheezing;

-- Experiencing cold symptoms lasting 10 days or more.

Dr. Ahmed is a board certified pediatrician with 25 years experience in the field of Pediatrics. His office is located in St. Joseph’s Medical Clinic at 227 16th Street West in Dickinson. For an appointment, call 701-227-7900.