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An upper respiratory infection (URI), also known as the common cold, is one of the most common illnesses, leading to more doctor visits and absences from school and work than any other illness every year. It is estimated that during a one-year period, people in the US will suffer one billion colds. Caused by a virus that inflames the membranes in the lining of the nose and throat, colds can be the result of more than 200 different viruses. However, among all of the cold viruses, the rhinoviruses and the corona viruses cause the majority of colds.
Children are most likely to have colds during fall and winter, starting in late August or early September until March or April. The increased incidence of colds during the cold season may be attributed to the fact that more children are indoors and close to each other. In addition, many cold viruses thrive in low humidity, making the nasal passages drier and more vulnerable to infection.
There are many different types of viruses that cause the common cold. In fact, over 200 different varieties of viruses can cause the symptoms of a cold. The most common virus is called the rhinovirus. Other viruses include the corona virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, enterovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus.
After the virus enters your child's body, it causes a reaction - the body's immune system begins to react to the foreign virus. This, in turn, causes:
In order to catch a cold, your child must come in contact with one of the viruses that cause a cold, from someone else who is affected. The cold virus can be transmitted in the following ways:
The symptoms of a cold start from one to three days after your child has been in contact with the cold virus. Usually, the symptoms last about one week, but this varies in each child, and may last even up to two weeks. The following are the most common symptoms of a cold. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of the common cold may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
A cold and the flu (influenza) are two different illnesses. A cold is relatively harmless and usually clears up by itself after a period of time, although sometimes it may lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection. However, the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia and even death. What may seem like a cold, could, in fact, be the flu. Be aware of these differences:
|Cold Symptoms||Flu Symptoms|
|Low or no fever||High fever|
|Sometimes a headache||Always a headache|
|Stuffy, runny nose||Clear nose or stuffy nose|
|Mild, hacking cough||Cough, often becoming severe|
|Slight aches and pains||Often severe aches and pains|
|Mild fatigue||Several weeks of fatigue|
|Sore throat||Sometimes a sore throat|
|Normal energy level||Extreme exhaustion|
Children suffer more colds each year than adults, due to their immature immune systems and to the close physical contact with other children at school or daycare. In fact, the average child will have six to 10 colds a year, while the average adult will get two to four colds a year. However, the average number of colds for children and adults will vary.
Most common colds are diagnosed based on reported symptoms. However, cold symptoms may be similar to certain bacterial infections, allergies, and other medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
It is important to remember that there is no cure for the common cold and that antibiotics will not help treat a common cold. Medications are used to help relieve the symptoms, but will not make the cold go away any faster. Therefore, treatment is based on helping the symptoms and supportive care. Specific treatment will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Treatment may include the following:
Do not give aspirin to a child who has fever. Aspirin, when given as treatment for viral illnesses in children, has been associated with Reye syndrome, a potentially serious or deadly disorder in children. Therefore, pediatricians and other healthcare providers recommend that aspirin (or any medication that contains aspirin) not be used to treat any viral illnesses (such as colds, the flu, and chickenpox) in children.
There are other medications for congestion, cough, or runny noses. In October 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a ban on over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children younger than six years old.
Discuss your options with your child's physician.
Taking proper preventive measures can reduce the risk of your child developing a cold. Preventive measures may include the following:
The following are some of the complications that might occur if your child gets a cold:
Consult your child's physician for further evaluation.
Contrary to popular belief, cold weather or getting chilled does not cause a cold, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). However, more colds do occur during the cold season (early fall to late winter), which is probably due to a variety of factors, including the following: