Dr. Mom: Best medicine for a cold can be none at all

09/27/2012 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:10 PM

It's the most common contagious infectious disease in the United States.

Your child can have anywhere from three to 10 cases of this in one year. It causes the most visits to pediatric clinics and the most missed school days.

There's no cure for it and right now I'm seeing a ton of it.

It's the common cold, and as of late it's been starting out with a dry and sore throat that quickly evolves into runny nose, congestion and cough. There may or may not be a slight elevation of temperature.

This is a viral infection, caused by more than 100 different types of rhinoviruses. It's easily spread from child to child through infected respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing and hand-to-hand contact.

During the first week of illness, it can be a bit frustrating for both parents and children because there's no easy fix.

Time, patience and some simple, effective home remedies will guide your child back to health.

So don't be so let down the next time your child's doctor says no to antibiotics and yes to these remedies.

They really do work.

Hydrate: Keep your child well hydrated throughout the course of his cold. Clear fluids offered frequently throughout the day will help thin out mucus and lessen congestion. And in the case of a fever, that extra water will stave off dehydration in the face of excess water loss.

Cool-mist humidifier: I recommend these for all households. Running a cool- mist humidifier in a child's room during a cold will help coat dry airways and ease nighttime cough. It's also great for stuffy noses.

Normal saline nose drops: These drops are fantastic for infants and toddlers to relieve congested sinuses. Use in conjunction with your favorite bulb suction before eating and sleeping. Older children can benefit from a nasal spray or nasal wash to help wash out excess mucus.

Honey: For children older than 1 year of age, one half to one teaspoon of honey before bedtime has been shown to reduce severity and frequency of nighttime cough.

Warm liquids and lozenges: As it turns out, chicken soup is good for the soul. Or, at the very least, it's good for a cold. The warmth combined with cysteine found in the soup soothes a sore throat and helps to thin out mucus. Lozenges are great for older children (over the age of 5) to help relieve sore throat and coughing.

Most children with the common cold recover within seven to 10 days, though the cough can linger a bit longer. Keep in mind that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children, as they have not been found to be effective and could potentially cause more harm than good.

If your child seems unfazed by her mild upper respiratory infection, then just let time do its thing.

So the next time your child's doctor says to you, "It's a cold" and you leave empty-handed, don't worry that it was a wasted visit. Your child's doctor was able to rule out other infectious causes of your child's symptoms, was able to make sure your child wasn't wheezing, didn't have an ear infection, and he imparted helpful ways to keep your child comfortable.

After all, sometimes the best medicine is none at all.

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