When a Cold is not a Cold
By Michael G. Marcus, M.D.
Is your baby's nose running? Is he sneezing? Coughing? Must be a cold,
right? Not necessarily. Sometimes the symptoms we associate with a cold
actually signal another upper respiratory infection in your infant.
Here's a look at how to spot and treat the common cold and two other
infections that you may mistake for a cold.
Common Cold Colds generally lasts five to seven days.
- A cold will make your baby irritable but he will still want to nurse or bottle-feed and be comforted by contact.
- His nasal discharge will be clear to white and his nose may alternate between runny and stuffy.
- A low-grade fever (under 101.5) may develop.
- Symptoms such as joint pain and swelling, muscle ache, vomiting, skin rashes, and urinary problems are not consistent with a common cold.
The most effective way to keep your infant from catching a cold is to
minimize the number of people who handle the baby. Anyone who does hold
or touch her should wash hands before contact. Despite these efforts,
it's not uncommon for infants to have as many as 6 to 10 colds per
year, especially if they have contact with older children. Treatment
Increase your infant's fluid intake and rest. Acetaminophen can be used
for fever in the age and dosage recommended. However, consult your
physician for any fever that is higher than 101.5 F or that lasts
longer than four to five days. Over-the-counter cold medications should
be avoided unless recommended by your physician since they do not
shorten the course of the infection and can cause unwanted side
effects, such as irritability and high blood pressure. Allergies
Up to 10 percent of babies experience allergies to foods, dust, mold
and pets. They are far more common in children where one or both
parents have a past history of allergies, eczema or asthma. Symptoms
- Clear to cloudy nasal discharge, sneezing, itching and rash
(hives). Symptoms may last for long periods of time when exposure is
constant, or they may be quite brief if caused by a sporadic exposure,
such as visiting grandma's house where a cat resides.
- Allergies tend to recur whenever the child is exposed to the "trigger."
Identifying the trigger for the symptoms is very important, since
avoidance of exposure to the allergen will effectively prevent the
development of symptoms. Treatment
A decongestant may
help some of the symptoms, but only antihistamines and/or nasal
steroids will effectively treat your child. These latter two
medications should only be used under the supervision of a physician. Sinusitis
Although infants can develop sinusitis, it's unclear how common it is
in this age group since it is difficult to diagnose in infants. Symptoms
- Any respiratory tract infection that seems to last for more than 10
to 14 days could be a sinus infection. If your pediatrician suspects
sinusitis you may need to go to a pediatric sub-specialist to confirm
the diagnosis. An untreated sinusitis can become chronic and lead to
- Sinus infections will frequently start with upper-respiratory
like symptoms of nasal congestion with obstruction. Frequently the
discharge will appear cloudy in the start, but will rapidly progress to
thick and crusting, and a stuffed nose.
- A cough, especially while lying down and or sleeping, is a
very common symptom of sinusitis. This cough is caused by post-nasal
drip and irritation of the throat and voice box.
Address respiratory infections that lead to sinusitis promptly --
before the sinuses have a chance to become blocked and infected. Treatment
Treatment of sinusitis requires potent decongestants to decrease nasal
obstruction and drip, coupled with antibiotics for a sufficient period
of time (frequently three to six weeks) to fully clear the bacteria
responsible for the infection. Antihistamines may actually delay
healing in some cases since they can dry the sinuses too much and
hinder effective drainage. Influenza
Infants can develop the flu, especially if there is contact with school-age children. Symptoms
Fever; thick, obstructive, nasal discharge; loose or dry cough; irritability and poor appetite.
Influenza may last 7 to 14 days and affect communities in clusters over a six to eight week period each winter.
Prevention It's similar to avoiding colds: minimize the
number of people who handle the baby and anyone who does hold or touch
her should wash hands before contact.
Antibiotics are not helpful in treating acute symptoms, however,
secondary bacterial infections can occur and if flu-like symptoms
persist or worsen beyond 10 to 14 days then antibiotics might be
recommended. Rest, fluids, anti-pyretics and even mother's chicken soup
can all make baby feel better. Ultimately, your baby's own immune
system is the best warrior in this battle.