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Kids and colds - Treat the symptoms and start the waiting game

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The vast majority of cold-like illnesses in children are caused by viruses. The good news is these viruses almost always resolve on their own, due to the body's immune system. The bad news is there is little anyone can do to speed the recovery. All anyone can usually do is treat the symptoms and wait. 

Typical symptoms of an upper respiratory virus infection - another name for the common cold - include a cough, nasal and chest congestion, sinus drainage, headache, low to moderate fever and just generally feeling bad. 

Children can also get a mild rash over their chest or stomach with some viruses. Often, a viral infection results in only a mild fever, with no other accompanying symptoms. Upper respiratory infections typically last seven to 10 days. 

The best way to handle an upper respiratory virus in children is to treat the symptoms. There are many different brands of children's cold medicine on the market; look for the combination that treats the child's particular symptoms. Either acetaminophen or ibuprofen works well to control fever, though it is best not to take both at the same time. Never give aspirin to a child under 13 years old. Aspirin given to children with a viral illness has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a frequently fatal condition. 

When giving a child over-the-counter medications, follow the label's directions and dosage guidelines. Some medication preparations for infants are actually stronger than preparations of the same medication for older children; infant acetaminophen drops are a good example. Never give a child prescription medications not prescribed for that child and that illness. Also, antibiotics are useless against viruses; consequently, primary care managers may not prescribe antibiotics for a child's illness. 

Do not be alarmed if the child develops a fever. Fevers are usually harmless, and are a good sign that the immune system is responding appropriately to an infection. Temperatures below 100.4°F typically do not need to be treated, unless the child is uncomfortable. Occasionally, fever in a child may result in a febrile seizure; these are typically harmless, but require a doctor's evaluation afterwards. 

Parents should call their primary care manager right away if their child has a fever and:
- Looks very ill, is unusually drowsy, or is very fussy;
- Has been in an extremely hot place, such as an overheated car;
- Has additional symptoms such as stiff neck, severe headache, severe sore throat, severe ear pain, an unexplained rash, or repeated vomiting or diarrhea;
- Has a condition that suppresses immune responses, such as sickle-cell disease or cancer, or is taking steroids;
- Has had a seizure;or
- Is younger than 6 months of age with a temperature over 100.4°F. 

Finally, if a child becomes ill, be sure to prevent spread of the illness to others. Family members should wash their hands frequently, and sick children should be kept home from school and away from others. 

For more information, patients should contact their primary care manager or the 27th MDG Public Health office at 784-4926.