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Childhood Viruses of Winter: The Common Cold

Board Certified Pediatric Emergency Physician Dr. Ronnie Waldrop and Erin Rovelli, RN serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents.

The winter season often brings respiratory infections and stomach bugs, especially among children. What should you know about caring for kids with these common illnesses?

This month, we’re taking a closer look at 5 common winter viruses in children. Here’s your guide to identifying and treating the common cold.

What is the Common Cold?

The common cold causes more absences from school and work each year than any other illness. It’s not uncommon for children in daycare to have a dozen colds in a single year!

The common cold isn’t a single illness. If fact, more than 200 different viruses can take hold inside your nose, mouth, throat or lungs and cause the familiar symptoms of the common cold.

Those symptoms typically include sneezing, coughing, sniffling and runny nose, mild sore throat, chest congestion and sometimes fever (under 102 degrees Fahrenheit). The common cold usually lasts 3-10 days, but symptoms can persist up to 14 days. 

Diagnosing and Treating Common Colds

Treatment for the common cold involves managing symptoms, including:

  • Giving oral fluids
  • Nasal suctioning with saline drops
  • Controlling fever with medications
  • In some cases, giving antihistamines such as Benadryl or Zyrtec

Cough medicines, however, are not recommended for children, since they can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Because they prevent secretions from being removed by the cough, cough medicines may also make it more likely that a child will develop a bacterial infection such as pneumonia.

Antibiotics are also ineffective for treating illnesses caused by viruses, including colds.

If your child has a cold, it can be hard to tell if a trip to the doctor is needed. Typically, a doctor visit is not necessary for the common cold. But contact your doctor if symptoms worsen or your child develops more serious signs such as:

  • High fever
  • Decreased fluid intake
  • Cough lasting longer than 10 days
  • Respiratory distress (such as rapid breathing, grunting during breathing or chest muscles contracting with each breath)

When Can My Child Return to School?

Your child may return to school once they are fever-free for at least 24 hours, though they may need a bit more time to feel better. Ultimately, parents should use their best judgment to decide when a child is feeling well enough to return to school. 

Use our Inova physician search to find a doctor near you.

 

 

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