Common Cold in Children


What causes it?

Common cold is a self-limited contagious illness that can be caused by a number of different types of viruses. Symptoms may include cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold, with rhinovirus causing approximately 30%-35% of all adult colds. Because so many different viruses can cause a cold and because new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem. In fact, children in preschool and elementary school can have six to 12 colds per year while adolescents and adults typically have two to four colds per year. The common cold occurs most frequently during the fall and winter months.

How is it transmitted?

The common cold is spread either by direct contact with infected secretions from contaminated surfaces or by inhaling the airborne virus after individuals sneeze or cough. Person-to-person transmission often occurs when an individual who has a cold blows or touches their nose and then touches someone or something else. A healthy individual who then makes direct contact with these secretions can subsequently become infected, often after their contaminated hands make contact with their own eyes or nose. A cold virus can live on objects such as pens, books, telephones, computer keyboards, and coffee cups for several hours and can thus be acquired from contact with these objects.


The symptoms of the common cold typically begin two to three days after acquiring the infection (incubation period). Symptoms and signs of the common cold vary depending on the virus responsible for the infection and may include the following

  • nasal stuffiness or drainage,
  • sore or scratchy throat,
  • sneezing,
  • hoarseness,
  • cough,
  • watery eyes,
  • low-grade fever,
  • headache,
  • body aches, and
  • fatigue.

Infants and children may also become more fussy and have decreased appetite.

The symptoms of the common cold will typically last anywhere from four to 14 days, with most individuals improving in one week.

Does it have anything to do with exposure to cold weather?

Though the common cold usually occurs in the fall and winter months, the cold weather itself does not cause the common cold. Rather, it is thought that during cold-weather months people spend more time indoors in close proximity to each other, thus facilitating the spread of the virus.

Treatment and home remedies

There is no cure for the common cold. The common cold is a self-limited illness that will resolve spontaneously with time. Home remedies and treatments are directed at alleviating the symptoms associated with the common cold while the body fights off the infection.

Home treatment for the common cold includes getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids. In older children and adults, over-the-counter medications such as throat lozenges, throat sprays, cough drops, and cough syrups may help relieve symptoms, though they will not prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold. Gargling with warm saltwater may help those with a sore throat.

Good old home remedies like honey ginger, ginger tea,steam inhalation are also very helpful.

Paracetamol can help with fever and bodyache.

Rest and plenty of fluids in order to prevent dehydration. Nasal drops and bulb suctioning may be used to clear nasal mucus in infants

Are antibiotics a suitable treatment for the common cold?

No. Antibiotics play no role in treating the common cold. Antibiotics are effective only against illnesses caused by bacteria, and colds are caused by viruses. Not only do antibiotics not help, but they can rarely also cause severe allergic reactions that can sometimes be fatal. Furthermore, using antibiotics when they are not necessary has led to the growth of several strains of common bacteria that have become resistant to certain antibiotics. For these and other reasons, it is important to limit the use of antibiotics to situations in which they are medically indicated.

Though occasionally a bacterial infection, such as sinusitis or a middle ear infection, can develop following the common cold, the decision to treat with antibiotics should be determined by your paediatrician.

When should a physician or other health-care practitioner be consulted?

Generally, the common cold can be treated at home and managed with over-the-counter medications. However, if your child has more severe symptoms such as shaking chills, high fever (greater than 102 F), severe headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or failure to improve after a few days, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Infants 3 months of age or younger who develop a cold or fever should consult their paediatrician at the onset of the illness.

How do you prevent the common cold?

The most important measure to prevent the common cold is to avoid infected individuals. Frequent hand washing is also extremely important, as this can destroy viruses that you have acquired from touching contaminated surfaces. Also, try to avoid sharing utensils and try to use disposable items (such as disposable cups) if someone in your family has a cold common cold.

There is no vaccine against common cold. A vaccine is available against flu, but flu and cmmon cold are two different things.

One also needs to differentiate common cold from allergic rhinitis. Anything which is persisting and is not responding to home remedies needs to be evaluated by your doctor. Common cold in itself is self-limiting and responds well to home remedies and conservative treatment.

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