What to do when you have a sick child

Written by S and A H, CNN

It’s a scary time of year when families encounter the phenomenon of “cough and cold season.”

It also happens to be the one of the best times of year to buy toys and school supplies. Here’s what the experts have to say on how to help your kids while they’re coughing or sneezing — and getting a handle on their winter allergies.

Cough and cold season is upon us. Photo credit: Courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before testing

Early prevention is the best approach, says Robyn Katz, senior director of home and child health at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“There’s no way of knowing whether a child is at risk for colds and flus before they start, but signs and symptoms of those conditions include low-grade fever, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, a persistent cough, dry cough and sore throat,” she says.

So to ensure your kids are healthy, make sure they are hydrated, get enough sleep and get plenty of sleep, Katz says. This will help them to calm down and avoid shortness of breath.

‘Chronic colds are not fun’

To avoid developing an illness early in the season, introduce new foods into the kids’ diets at home (and suggest that they drink extra water) to mimic foods that might be beneficial to their immune system. These include soy milk and fish, says Sarah Jane Briggs, vice president of communications at the American Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

It’s also a good idea to drink extra water for long periods of time during colder months, she says. Also, keep the window for bacteria and viruses open so that they’re not exposed to moisture. “And if one child misses a day or two, you have other family members or friends to help out,” Briggs adds.

Proper technique

Most kids need to be given a salt-based antihistamine to help fight off cold-like symptoms — such as body aches and low-grade fever — after they start feeling the cold symptoms come on, and as a preventative measure, says Dr. Denise Orboyan, pediatrician and clinical associate professor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The medicine — like Otrexup and Allegra Select — is available as a prescription drug, so check with your doctor first.

When it comes to getting school-age kids through the season, ease the stress and teach them to take care of themselves. “They’ve got to learn to self-care, and that means knowing how to take care of themselves and how to follow your advice,” says Orboyan. “Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids, be good about taking a nap, and help them stop when they feel tired and let them take a break,” she adds.

“The idea is to teach kids to know what’s healthy for them so that if they feel they need it, they can go to their doctors.”

With children, this usually means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water and getting some sunlight, says Orboyan. They should also avoid foods that might give them a sore throat or fever, like oysters, raw mushrooms, raw broccoli and raw sweet potatoes. Also, medications like children’s decongestants and antihistamines are only appropriate for people with chronic colds, not in children, who often have a different set of symptoms from adults, Briggs says.

If the problem gets bad

If a child doesn’t feel better within three to four days of developing symptoms, talk to the doctor about the possibility of some sort of chronic disease, says Orboyan. Sometimes the mild-seasoned Cold and Flu season is a good time to do a few things — like examine their breathing, their throat and their sores, Orboyan says. “Then they can start to see if there’s some sort of illness that could have contributed.”

If a child does have a chronic illness and does not feel any better in three to four days, talk to the doctor about the possibility of some sort of medication, Orboyan says. Sometimes the mild-seasoned Cold and Flu season is a good time to do a few things — like examine their breathing, their throat and their sores, Orboyan says. “Then they can start to see if there’s some sort of illness that could have contributed.”

Most serious conditions — like asthma or bronchitis — require immediate attention from a doctor, or a specialist, says Dr. Cynthia DuClos, a pediatric

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