Colds: What You Need To Know

28 January 2013

Colds and the flu. It is that time of the year as winter drags its heels towards the finish line. When the weather is cold, and damp, and the world is still mostly dark. There's no Christmas to look forward to, and we're all that little bit run down.

It's like the perfect storm. Swill all those conditions together with a closed environment such as a school classroom, and you've the perfect breeding ground for viruses. At one point last week a third of my son's class were off school with colds and the flu.

There's a lot of information out there, and a lot we take for granted as 'facts'. But is it all true? We thought we'd go looking and find out what are the myths, and what are the facts, about the common cold. And what you can do as a parent to help prevent, or treat, a sick child.

Women get more colds

This is almost true in that women tend to suffer more from colds but it isn't down to our gender but because women are more likely to be around children than men are. Children get around seven to ten colds a year, compared with two to three for adults. This means that parents who do the school run, childcare workers, teachers and healthcare professionals are just simply in the firing line more.

Apart from avoiding children there's not a lot you can do about this. Apart from follow the tips outlined below (good practice for everyone.

Cold vs Flu

How do you tell if you or your child has a cold, or the flu? It is a tough one even though the common cold and flu are different types of viral infections of the respiratory system. The problem is they share similar symptons and may feel the same, so it can be hard to tell them apart.

The first surprising fact for me was that while you will have a fever if you have the flu, this is very rarely the case if it is a cold. Also you only get the chills, aches or tiredness with the flu. Whereas symptoms you're moe likely to have with the common cold are a stuffed nose, sore throat and sneezing.

Each has a different sort of cough too. A dry cough for the flu, hacking cough that produces phlegm for cold.

However, when in doubt I use the same rule of thumb for telling if anyone in the family has the flu or a cold that my mother used. If they're able to tell you they've got the flu, then it ain't the flu.

Prevention is better than cure

Wearing gloves, or making sure you don't touch any surfaces, when in public areas or on public transport isn't the prevention some people think. Both the cold and flu viruses spread through contact person to person.

You can catch cold through you eyes as well. A cough or sneeze will release germs into the air, or hand if mouth is covered. These germs can land on you, or on your hand if you shake hands for example, and with one touch to the eyes you're infected.

Prevention is best through frequently washing your hands and avoiding close contact with anyone with a cold or the flu.

The NHS advises that you should always carry tissues, use a tissue once, and throw it away as soon as it is used. Wash hands with hot soapy water or use a sanitiser gel soon after.

You don't get a cold or the flu from going outside without a coat, or with wet hair, or anything similar. Viruses cause colds, not cold air. Still, a good idea not to go out with wet hair anyway when the weather is freezing!

Treating colds

If you or your children are infected with the cold or flu virus, get plenty of rest to help fight the infection.  Drinking lots of fluids is also important to stay hydrated and loosen mucus.

Even if there is a lot of mucus don't expect to get antibiotics. A cold is a viral infection, and antibiotics will only treat bacterial infections.

Try to eat healthily. Children in particular go off their food but may be tempted with a nourishing soup that's easy for them to swallow.

Vapour rubs help with breathing, especially at night. If like my son, your child doesn't like anything sticky or gooey on their face, try putting balm or vaseline around their nose and lips once they're asleep. We did that and it took the red, rawness he got from blowing his nose right down.

You can also get oils to put into steam for children to inhale, although just steam can do wonders too.

Finally, my favourite remedy for the grown ups (although not many children will like it) for sore throats is ginger tea. Steep some crushed fresh ginger in freshly boiled water if you can. If not keep a packet of ginger tea in the cupboard for times like this. It really does help, a lot.

Your advice?

What have you learned as a parent when dealing with children with colds? I've shared my top tip about the soothing balm. What's yours?

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