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              crocodile sick in bed with a cold

              Medical Corner

              Everything You Need to Know About Kids' Coughs and Colds

              Ready for cold season? Anjuli Srivastava Gans, MD, attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, breaks down everything you need to know – from when to call the pediatrician to what to have on hand for middle-of-the-night fevers.

              Written By
              Anjuli Srivastava Gans, MD
              Illustration
              Emily Isabella

              As a pediatrician and mom of toddlers, I know that it can feel overwhelming when your baby is sick with a cold. There are so many things to think about...Is it a virus or something else? What can I do for my child’s symptoms? When do I need to see my pediatrician or go to the Emergency Room?  

               As we head into cough and cold season this year, here’s everything you need to know to feel confident caring for your sick child.

              What to Know About Coughs and Colds

              Knowing what to expect can help you to feel more informed about your child's health. Did you know that young kids in daycare (or early school years) may get 6-8 illnesses in a year, as part of normal early exposure. This year, we may see more than that. I know it's hard when you're going through it, but your little one's body is doing what it’s supposed to--building immunity.

              Since most pediatric coughs and colds are from viruses, the best care is often supportive. Focusing on keeping your child comfortable, hydrated, and well-nourished will help them heal more quickly and easily.

              What to Include in Your Cough and Cold Kit

              Every parent has been there. Your child has a cold, it’s the middle of the night, and you find yourself scrambling to find the right snot sucker or thermometer. Having a home ‘cough and cold kit’ will help you feel prepared for handling any of your child’s symptoms. Here’s what you need to have on hand at home:

              • Nasal saline drops or spray

              • Nasal bulb or snot sucker (Bulb suction, NoseFrida, Occobaby Electric Aspirator)

              • Tissues

              • Cool-mist humidifier

              • Thermometer (Occobaby)

              • Pedialyte

              • Honey (kids > 1 year old)

              • Warm apple juice (kids > 6 months old)

              Relieving Cold and Cough Symptoms

              Here are 5 ways you can help your child (at every age) when they have a cold. Focus on fluids, steam, nasal suction, nourishing foods, and rest.

              Fluids: When children have congestion or coughs, they need extra fluids for hydration and healing.

              Steam: Mist air eases congestion. For steam in the bathroom, turn the shower on and close the door -- when the mirror is nice and foggy, bring your child in to breathe in the mist air for as long as they’ll let you. For humidifiers, use a cool mist humidifier placed at least 3 feet away from where your baby is sleeping, and clean it regularly to prevent germ buildup.

              Nasal Suction: Using nasal saline drops and nasal suction when your child is uncomfortable, before feeds, and before bedtime can help with comfort.

              Nourishing Foods: Foods and drinks with Vitamin C (found in oranges, orange juice, strawberries, etc.), Vitamin A, zinc, and cysteine (like chicken soup or broths) nurture your child’s immune system and help with healing.

              Rest: Let your child rest as much as they can. It is so important for healing. I know it’s hard, especially with little ones, but it’s okay to relax regular sleep and eating routines or screen time rules when they’re not feeling well. They will all come back in time.

              What To Do When Your Child Has a Cold

              If your newborn has a cough or cold:

              Always check in with your pediatrician first. Babies younger than 3 months old can be more prone to serious illness - your pediatrician will help guide you through their sickness.

              If your 3 to 6 month old has a cough or cold:

              Fluids: Focus on giving baby fluid with breastmilk or formula. You can use small amounts of pedialyte in consultation with your pediatrician. You can also try a little bit of warm apple juice to help with cold symptoms.

              Nasal Suction: Focus on suctioning with a small bulb or NoseFrida only as you need to -- before feeds, bedtime, or if your child seems uncomfortable. Use nasal saline drops before suctioning. Avoid suctioning more than about 3 times a day -- too much can irritate the nasal passages.

              Nourishing foods: If your baby has started solids, you can try things like sips of chicken broth (cysteine), warm apple juice, oranges or strawberries (Vitamin C) or cantaloupe (zinc).

              If your 6 month - 1 year old has a cough or cold:

              Fluids: Focus on giving baby fluid with breastmilk or formula. You can also try Pedialyte, water, popsicles, or juice. Warm apple juice can help with cold symptoms.

              Mist Air: When you bring your child into a steamy bathroom, bring a toy or something for distraction! Babies can be squirmy at this age!

              Nasal Suction: Just do your best with a small bulb or NoseFrida (some parents find electric aspirators easier at this age), and focus on times when they really need it like before feedings, bed, or if they are uncomfortable.

              Nourishing foods: If your baby has started solids, you can try things like sips of chicken broth (with cysteine), warm apple juice, oranges or strawberries (for Vitamin C) or cantaloupe (full of zinc).

              If your 1-3 year-old has a cough or cold:

              Fluids: Try breastmilk, water, milk, pedialyte, juice, or popsicles. Warm apple juice and honey can help with cold symptoms.

              Mist Air: Bring your toddler (and a toy or activity!) into a steamy bathroom to help with congestion.

              Nasal Suction: Just do your best with whatever your toddler will let you do -- small bulbs, NoseFrida, or electric aspirators can all work well at this age.

              Nourishing foods: You can try things like sips of chicken broth (cysteine), warm apple juice, oranges or strawberries (Vitamin C) or cantaloupe (zinc).

              When Can My Child Return to School?

              In general, children may return to school after they are fever-free for at least 24 hours (without use of a fever-reducing medication) and when coughs are improved. This year, a lot of schools have specific rules before children can come back to school – check with your child’s school or daycare and ask if they require 1) a doctor’s note or 2) specific testing before return. Having a plan in place will help you feel prepared in case your child gets sick this year.

              When to Call Your Pediatrician

              Here are some signs that your child may need medical attention:

              • Fever for more than 3 days

              • Symptoms that are getting worse instead of better

              • Trouble breathing

              • Change in color

              • Extra sounds when breathing (i.e. wheezing, grunting, etc.)

              • Dehydration

              • Cough for more than 2 weeks

              • With any questions or concerns - always trust your gut

              Nurturing Immunity for Colds

              Here are some ways you can establish healthy habits at home and be ready for any illnesses that may come this season.

              • Make sure that your child is getting the nutrients and vitamins they need to support their immune system. These include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and zinc.

              • Frequent handwashing. Effective hand washing should last 20 seconds - make it fun with songs (Happy Birthday, the Alphabet Song) and games (try Wash Your Lyrics)

              • Teach your child how to cough into their elbow to reduce germ spread.

              • Wash hands after every diaper change.

              • Clean your kids’ toys and frequently used items every night.

              • Have a family plan (siblings, childcare, sick days/time off, etc.) in case of illness.

              With the right tools and a plan in place, you’re ready for this cough and cold season. You’re going to do great!

              Anjuli Srivastava Gans, MD, is founder of Resilient Rascals and an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia . As a leading expert on early childhood health + development, she hopes to bridge the gap between parents’ instincts and practical medical care that they can use at home. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children.