Colds, Coughs and Runny Noses

Colds, coughs and runny noses are more common in the winter than in any other season. Poor circulation of air, dry heated air and crowded indoor spaces make it easier to share germs. Children in their first couple of years of child care or school have one or two more colds than children their age who receive care only at home and who have no siblings to bring infection home. After three years of child care, children in child care have fewer colds than those who have not had the opportunity to build their immunity in group care.

Some children with a cold may have a low grade fever. The mild rise in temperature indicates that the body is fighting the infection. Temperature elevations that do not make the child uncomfortable are helpful. Viruses do not multiply as well at higher body temperatures. No medication helps treat the common cold. What you can do:
• Keep the nasal passages open when mucus gets thick, using saline nose drops, spray or mist.
• Put the child to sleep on a mattress that has something under the head end of it, so mucus will drain back and get swallowed. Swallowed mucus passes through the body harmlessly.
• Teach children how to gently blow their noses.
• Offer lots of water to drink. For children over 12 months of age, warm weak tea with lemon and honey tastes good and may soothe throat tickles. Infants should not be given honey.
• Keep the indoor humidity around 30-50% during the winter. The body fights off infection in the moist mucus membranes. Fingers poked into itchy dry noses spread infection.
• Wash hands if there might have been contact with mucus or touching of eyes, nose or mouth. Proper hand hygiene helps reduce the spread of the cold virus to others.

For guidance and handouts for parents and staff about many types of infectious diseases in child care, see the current edition of Managing Infectious Diseases in Child Care and Schools, A Quick Reference Guide. To buy the book from the American Academy of Pediatrics, call 888/227-1770 or go to Updated 7/2021