Sniffle … Sneeze … Cough …

Little girl blowing her nose.

Cropped image. Oddharmonic, Flickr. CC License.

It’s that time of year when there seems to be a subtle cacophony of sniffle, sneeze, and cough all around. And with that tune, we’ve entered cold and flu season. Before chiming in, here are a few tips regarding those pesky bugs, and how to stay comfortable or, even better, how to prevent being a part of the chorus to begin with.

The term “common cold” unfortunately gets its name due to its contagiousness and how often it occurs. Colds spread easily between children in close contact with one another and a few viruses seem to be responsible for most of the missed school and work days. It’s not unusual for a child to get an upper respiratory infection six to eight times per year. With that frequency, it may seem like your child is always sick, but fortunately most of these colds resolve on their own.


Some symptoms of the common cold are runny nose, cough, fever and sore throat. Initially the nasal drainage will be clear but will thicken and may develop a yellow-green color as the symptoms continue due to an immune response. Most colds last between seven and 10 days, but there may be a slight cough or nasal drainage for another week or so after. However if your child isn’t getting better after a week, it may mean she’s picked up another infection and it’s a good idea to check in with your child’s health care provider at this time.


Most colds can be managed at home with supportive care. However if your child is younger than three months, has any worrisome symptoms (like nasal flaring or difficulty breathing), or your child just isn’t acting like himself then you should notify your pediatrician right away.

For typical cold symptoms, extra rest and hydration can be helpful. Cool mist humidifiers, steam treatments, and nasal saline and suction can help loosen nasal mucous. While antibiotics are great for bacterial infections, they offer no relief from the viruses responsible for common colds. And, keep in mind, most over the counter cough medicines are not recommended for children under age six.


There are a few things that can be done to aid in preventing colds.

  • It’s best to isolate babies younger than three months from those who may be sick and to keep them away from public spaces during cold and flu season when there are a higher number of viruses circulating. Viruses seem to cause more serious illness in babies younger than three months and prevention is the best strategy to use in keeping them healthy.
  • Some vaccines can help prevent cold weather-prone illnesses like flu and whooping cough.
  • Good hand washing and keeping hands away from the face and eyes can help keep viruses away from their desired environments for replication.
  • If a child isn’t feeling well, it’s best to have her cough/sneeze into a disposable tissue instead of into her hands, which are likely to touch a surface that another person could also touch and pick up a virus left behind.

While we await the symphony of spring, with good preventative techniques hopefully your family can avoid most of winter’s illnesses.  And if your child does catch a cold, hopefully he or she is able to stay comfortable while recovering and while building a strong immune system.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of a toddler and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

1 Response to “Sniffle … Sneeze … Cough …”

  1. 1 Anonymous December 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Great reminders! Thank you!

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