Cold Basics

The more you know about colds, the better you can cope with them.

A cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat that can be spread in a number of different ways, such as:

  • Physical contact with another child or adult who has a cold.
  • Physical contact with a contaminated item that was previously touched by someone who has a cold.
  • The air, by breathing in germs from someone who is coughing or sneezing.

Infants and preschool children are especially susceptible to colds and flu. It is estimated that both preschool and elementary children can get up to 8 to 10 colds per year. While most children experience colds in the fall and winter, when they are more likely to be inside due to the weather, summer colds are very common.

Once your child has a cold, there are various ways to help treat the symptoms until the infection has run its course. Below are some common treatments:

Dealing with a runny nose

Periodically clearing the nose will make breathing easier. Have your child blow their nose by putting a tissue over their nose, closing one nostril and gently blowing the other side for 3-5 seconds, then switch sides. Using a mentholated rub on their chest and throat, and using a saline spray may also help to relieve congestion. Using a clean humidifier, or cool mist vaporizer, or breathing steam from a bowl of hot water (under supervision) or shower, will also help to relieve your child’s congestion and sinus pain as well.

Soothe a sore throat

Help relieve your child’s sore throat by giving your child warm salt water to gargle if they are old enough. Ice chips, sore throat sprays, or lozenges (use caution with young children) will also help to soothe sore throat pain.

Loss of appetite

When your child has a cold, it is important they do not become dehydrated. Give your child soups, warm drinks with honey, drinks with a high vitamin C content (such as orange juice), and plenty of water to stay hydrated.

If your child attends daycare or school, they are more likely to catch a cold than any other illness. Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes to 2 hours or more on surfaces like doorknobs, desks, toys, and cafeteria tables. For this reason it is important to teach your child to:

  • Wash their hands often – at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap, or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching their face, to prevent them from infecting themselves in the event they touched a surface with a cold virus.
  • Cough and sneeze into their elbow to help prevent the spread of germs.