Colds

So where does a Pediatrician trained by a fine US medical school and pediatric residency go to help discuss a medical disease?

Well, Wikipedia of course! (It was too late for me to call Dr. Pai. He’s even better than the internet.)

We’re headed into that time of year again: stuffy, runny noses; sneezing; coughing; fever. You get the picture: Cold Season. (Technically, Cold and Flu season. But I’m going to focus just on colds for this Note.)

But back to Wikipedia for a moment. It says that “Colds” got their name in the 16th century, due to the association between the onset of symptoms and exposure to cold weather. (Ah, the Information Age!) Besides that cool piece of trivia, here’s what I want you to know about Colds…

The Math of Colds

Colds occur frequently, can last over a week, and can occur back-to-back.

Kids get a lot of them — on average, about 8 per year. They last about 7-10 days. And here’s the catch: Colds aren’t spread out over 12 months of the year. They typically hit from October to April.

So what’s the big deal? Think about it for a moment.

Let’s average the duration of a Cold at 10 days. If your kid gets 8 Colds, that’s 80 days of Cold symptoms. Which means he or she spends close to 3 months of that 7-month span being sick. Which means that when you feel like your child has been “sick for months,” you’re probably right!

So why am I spending so much time doing “Cold” Math? Because several days of coughs and runny/stuffy noses often freaks parents out. But I’m here to tell you: if you have kids, especially young kids, you better start buying lots of Kleenex! (Not that they’ll use it, of course, but it will be handy when you chase them down to wipe their noses…).

Your immune system is kind of like a computer with lots of memory. Once your immune system encounters specific infections, it typically becomes very good at fighting that infection, and even similar infections, in the future. The more years you live and the more exposure you have to these infections, the better your immune system gets.

So, in other words: young children catch a lot of colds because they haven’t caught a lot of colds! They haven’t lived that many years, so they haven’t been exposed to, fought off, and built up immunity to that many colds. Once they have, they catch a lot fewer of them. A kid who’s been in Daycare and Preschool for 3 years (or more) prior to heading off to Kindergarten has completed a kind of Green Beret-Special Forces Immune System Training. They’re prepared!

It’s distressing for parents to see the sheer volume and range of colors little kids’ noses can produce — and that’s just the mucus! — when they have a cold. Throw in some cough, sneezing, and fever, and most parents will do anything to help their kids get better. But the bummer about Colds is that there is no cure other than time.

Classic Cold Symptoms

Here’s a list of classic Cold Symptoms to which you can refer (probably many times) over these next several months…

NOSE
Runny: Clear-thin to thick-green discharge (the full spectrum!)

Stuffy:  Like an invisible cork was plugged up there.

Sneezing: A forceful spray emitted with significant infection potential

UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT
Cough: Dry, Loose, Vibratory, Productive – all possible with colds.

ORAL CAVITY
Throat: Sore, Raspy, Hoarse

EYES
Watery, Crusty.

HEAD
Congested, Headache

GENERAL
General lousy feeling, with decreased appetite and disrupted sleep

FEVER
If it occurs, it’s at the onset, and usually 100.5 to less than 104, lasting less than 5 days.

Treatment for Young Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics, and we along with them, do not recommend over-the-counter medications for children under the age of 4. For what they, and we, recommend instead, see this excellent resource page on Cough & Cold Home Remedies.

This information should help you feel better about recognizing the symptoms. But, as always, feel free to call the office any time you have questions or concerns!

Dr. Wolynn is the President and CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics