What are the do’s and don’ts when your baby catches a cold?
BY DR DIANA OSMAN
There’s a reason why colds are called “common”. Many healthy children have eight to 10 colds and other viral infections in the first two years of life (or six to eight colds in the first year), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The newborns are at higher risk for colds and other infections for the first four to six weeks, because the baby’s immune systems aren’t fully matured. All babies are born with some immunity to illness, but it takes time for babies’ immune system to fully develop and mature to fight the germs.
Viruses or germs cause common colds. A common cold is a viral infection of the baby’s nose and throat, showing signs of a cold. Babies are likely to get common colds as they are yet to develop immunity to common infections.
How do babies catch a cold?
The common cold is caused by viruses that are spread through skin-to-skin contact, droplets transmission from coughs or sneezes and contact with an object that’s been contaminated.
i. Colds spread through person-to-person contact or by breathing in virus particles, which can travel up to 12 feet through the air when someone with cold coughs or sneezes.
ii. It also lands on surfaces such as toys and tables. Therefore, when babies touch these surfaces and put their hands in their mouths, they give the cold virus an easy entry route.
iii. Babies also often pick up colds at daycare. When a sick baby at daycare coughs or sneezes, the droplets carrying cold viruses from the cough or sneeze may reach another baby’s nose or mouth.
iv. They can also catch it from older brothers and sisters who bring the virus home from school or from grown-ups who shook hands with someone who carries the cold viruses
What is the common cold in babies?
It is called the ‘common’ cold because many healthy children have eight to 10 colds and other viral infections in the first two years of life. That is because their developing immune systems are not able to protect them yet from viruses
There are more than 200 different viruses that can cause a cold. The rhinovirus is the most common one, but others include coronavirus, parainfluenza, adenovirus, enterovirus, and respiratory syncytial viruses. Common cold symptoms usually are mild. They often include a tickly throat, a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing. They may have a low-grade fever. A baby with a cold usually feels quite well and has a good appetite and normal energy levels.
What are the symptoms of cold in a baby?
The first signs of the common cold in a baby are often: A congested or runny nose. Nasal discharge may be clear at first but might thicken and turn yellow or green.
Other symptoms include a fever, sneezing, coughing, decreased appetite, irritability, difficulty sleeping and trouble nursing or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion.
How long does a cold last in babies?
The typical cold usually lasts for seven to 10 days. Some do extend up to 14 days. The incubation period for a cold is between one and four days. It is typically most contagious a day or two before symptoms appear but can be passed along when the cold is already underway. Once the runny nose dries up, it is less contagious.
How does a cold start in a baby?
During the first three days, they may seem fussier than usual with a low-grade fever and a slight decrease in appetite. They may also start to have runny nose with clear mucus (usually begins on day two or three). The fever usually subsides during the middle phase of a cold, but the mucus thickens and may turn light yellow. This causes nasal congestion or a “blocked nose” in a baby.
The baby will start to develop a cough due to the mucus dripping down the nasal passage to the back of the throat (post-nasal drip). This sets off a cough response. During this episode, the baby may have trouble sleeping.
In the final three days, the mucus thickens even more and becomes crusty, by then, babies will generally become more active and their appetite back to almost normal.
Do baby colds go away on their own?
Colds typically go away on their own after a few days, but there may be a need to visit a pediatrician if unusual symptoms develop or if a baby is less than one month old.
How does a cold affect babies?
Babies can develop complications from a common cold. These complications include acute ear infection (otitis media), wheezing, acute sinusitis (usually older children) and other infections. A common cold can lead to other infections, including pneumonia, bronchiolitis and croup.
What are the treatments for baby colds?
Most cases of common cold get better without treatment. Antibiotics are usually not needed unless the congestion develops into an ear infection or pneumonia. Medications can help relieve some of the symptoms, but they will not make a cold or flu go away any faster.
These are some medications to treat the common cold, but a doctor/paediatrician must prescribe them. They are fever-reducing medicine such as paracetamol, flu medicine such as antihistamines, cough medicine (only to be given for children above two years old, nasal spray (a saline nasal spray) to clear nasal mucous) and a nasal decongestant spray for relieve of nose block/nasal congestion.
When do parents see a doctor?
i. Baby less than one-year-old
ii. Baby is older but has a fever
iii. Vomiting and unable to tolerate orally or interrupted feeding
iv. Passes less amount of urine (signs of dehydration)
v. Baby becomes inactive, sleeps much more than usual, is drowsy
vi. Fast, rapid or noisy breathing
vii. Cough worsens after a few days or if cough persists for more than five days
viii. Appearance of rashes, red eyes or developed eye discharge
ix. Pale or bluish skin
xi. Has thick, green nasal discharge.
Can parents manage colds for their babies at home?
Yes, most colds can be managed at home. Still, parents must be aware and vigilant of the signs and symptoms of worsening infection, and a visit to a doctor/paediatrician is a MUST based on the criteria given earlier.
Here are some useful tips in managing common colds at home:
i. If a child has a low-grade fever, a sponge bath with lukewarm water may help while waiting for the medicine (paracetamol) to work
ii. Keep your child hydrated by frequent small feeds. Breastfeed as often as possible to keep them hydrated
iii. Encourage plenty of fluids in bigger children. Fluids like water and fruit juices would be helpful.
iv. A soft diet like porridge and soups would be best during the illness.
v. Inhaling steam or a cool-mist vapouriser may help a stuffy nose
vi. Nasal saline or saline gel may be helpful too
vii. Plenty of rest
What are the tips for baby cold prevention?
There is no vaccine for the common cold. The best defence is taking precautions and frequent hand washing, which also includes:
i. Keep baby away from anyone who is sick
ii. Clean your baby’s toys and pacifiers often
iii. Wash your hands before feeding or touching your baby
iv. Teach everyone in the household to cough or sneeze into a tissue/towel
There is a vaccine available for the influenza virus. The influenza vaccine is given as early as six months of age. This would prevent infection by Influenza A and B. Make sure that your baby is up to date on his / her immunisation. — The Health
Dr Diana Osman is a Consultant Paediatrician at Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre, Klang