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Tackling Coughs and Colds

Tackling Coughs and Colds

October 10, 2016 - By Dr Antony Zardis

Dr Antony Zardis gives his expert advice on how to treat winter coughs and colds.

Dr Antony Zardis gives his expert advice on how to treat winter coughs and colds:

As we migrate through the autumnal months, into the depths of winter and the temperatures begin to plummet, it is inevitable that we, as adults will catch the odd common cold. It's therefore of no surprise that the same goes for our little ones. Their vulnerable and underdeveloped immune systems become exposed to all kinds of bugs, but fear not, for they come out stronger for it in the end. The average preschool child will contract approximately six to eight respiratory tract infections per year, of which 80 - 90 % will be viral. Most of these will present as an ear, nose or throat infection ( what is often referred to as an upper respiratory tract infection) and are more often than not, self limiting. The first one can often be very alarming, especially for the inexperienced first time mum, so it's no wonder they call them the "terrible twos".

What signs and symptoms should I look out for in my child?

The most common presentation is a child with a painful throat (indicated by poor feeding), fever, runny and stuffy nose ( indicated by heavy breathing sounds), and sometimes ear ache (often indicated by the child pulling down on its own ear).

Can it be treated with antibiotics?

This is one of the most common questions Doctors are asked and the answer is absolutely NOT! Antibiotics are used for the treatment of bacterial infections. Symptomatic relief is the main focus of treatment for viral infections.

So what is the treatment?

Liquid paracetamol or Ibuprofen is now only recommended for children in distress and not to be given routinely, just for the sake of a cold. This is because in most cases they may extend the illness and also put your child at risk of overdosing.

What is important to remember is that fever itself is not an illness, but in fact a natural physiological mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection, so it must be allowed to run it's course so that our young ones can benefit from this. It is important that the primary focus of treating a child with a fever, should not be to normalise its body temperature, but to improve its over all comfort.

It is of course important to take into consideration the context of a fever, as upper respiratory tract infections are not the only cause of one. If your child is sustaining a fever, but does not appear to have the usual symptoms of a cold, it is important to have them reviewed by your GP first before giving them any medications.

As far as over dosing is concerned, It has recently been reported that the two drugs should not routinely be given together, unless each drug has been tried separately on its own first, and your child has shown no sign of improvement with either.

The appropriate dosage of paracetamol and ibuprofen for your child is calculated using its weight in kilograms.

Paracetamol can be given up to 4 times in a 24 hour period, at 4 hourly intervals. It's dosage is 15mg per kilogram.

Ibuprofen can be given up to 3 times in a 24 hour period at 6 hourly intervals. It's dosage is 5mg per kilogram.

Be sure to follow the instructions that come with each medication and if in doubt ask your local GP or pharmacist for further details. If you do not know how much your baby  weighs, pop in to your local GP, where weighing scales will be available.

What can I do to help avoid my child from getting a Respiratory Tract Infection?

There really isn't much you can do to avoid these infections, per se, in fact it is necessary for your child to go through this, so that it's immune system can strengthen and gain the ability to attack other stronger infections in the future.

There are certain factors that will increase the risk of your child contracting a respiratory tract infection:

  • Parental, especially maternal smoking
  • Premature birth
  • Children born with heart or lung defects, such as Cystic Fibrosis.

Breast feeding will provide your baby with natural antibodies and so give it a head start in building an immunity to fight certain infections, in particular ear infections.

Is there a way I can vaccinate my child against these infections?

There has recently been a new edition to the national immunisation programme which encompasses a new influenza ( common flu ) vaccine, available to all children aged 2 - 3.

Fear not, for the vaccine is not given as an injection, but as a simple nasal spray ( one squirt up each nostril of your child's nose).There are very few, if any side effects and it is considered to work better then the injected version used in adults.This vaccine will soon be made available to all children up to the age of 16 and being vaccinated will mean that your child is less likely to become ill if they come into contact with the flu virus.

In conclusion.....

It is inevitable that our young ones will become unwell with an upper respiratory tract infection at various different stages during their pre school years. When they do, it is important to use medications to keep them comfortable when in distress, but if baby is sleeping soundly, do not wake it up to give it paracetamol " because it is due". Antibiotics will not help in this instance, so do not curse your GP for not prescribing them and do not praise the GP that gave in and did.

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