A runny nose is often the first sign of a cold. The mucus usually starts clear and turns yellowish and cloudy after a few days. Flu can cause a runny nose too, though not as often.
What is the 'common cold'?
It is an infection caused by a virus. Hundreds of different viruses can cause colds and they usually affect the nose, ears, and throat. They are easily spread from person to person through infected droplets from the mouth and nose. They can also be passed on through coughs and sneezes.
Colds are very common. Healthy preschool children often catch at least 6 colds per year. Sometimes, after recovering from a virus, kids get sick with a new and different virus, so it can seem as though they are ‘always sick’. Children are more likely to catch a cold than adults because their immune system is still developing. Most children catch fewer cold viruses as they get older.
How do colds spread?
Children can catch colds from siblings, parents, other family members, playmates or caregivers. Germs usually spread in one of 3 ways:
Direct contact—such as kissing, touching or holding hands—with an infected person. If you have a virus, you will have germs in your nose, mouth, eyes and on your hands. By touching other people, you can pass on the virus.
Indirect contact means touching something—a toy, doorknob or a used tissue—that has been touched by an infected person and now has germs on it. Some germs, including those that cause colds and diarrhoea, can stay on surfaces for many hours.
Through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from the cough or sneeze can reach another person’s nose or mouth.
What are the symptoms of a cold?
The commonly observed symptoms are:
- blocked or runny nose
- sore throat
Some toddlers can also exhibit:
- A skin rash
- A fever
In some cases, a cold can be caused by one of the following:
- bronchiolitis (younger children) or bronchitis (older children)
- whooping cough
What are standard treatments for colds for toddlers?
Most coughs and colds are caused by viruses and get better on their own within a week. If your child has a cold virus, antibiotics will not help them recover since antibiotics can only help treat bacterial infections.
Other medicines such as decongestants, antihistamines and cough syrups have not been shown to help children recover from coughs and colds and are not recommended for young children.
Vitamin supplements such as zinc, vitamin C and echinacea have also not been shown to help children recover from colds faster.
Special diets, or feeding your child more or less than usual (‘feed a fever, starve a cold’) have not been shown to have any effect on a cough or cold.
Humidifiers and steam treatments have also not been shown to have an effect on coughs or colds in children, although some parents find them helpful.
The best treatment for most coughs and colds is for your child to rest at home so their immune system can fight the virus. Making sure your child drinks plenty of fluids will help ease a sore throat and make a runny nose easier to blow. Saline nose drops or spray can also help thin mucus and make it easier to blow out. You can use a bulb syringe to gently suck mucus from your baby’s nose if they are too young to blow it themselves.
Honey has been shown to help ease children’s coughs, especially if given at bedtime. It can be given to children over 12 months of age.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to ease the pain of a sore throat or headache. The strengths of these over-the-counter medicines differ, so be sure to check the dose instructions on the pack and give your child medicines only as directed.
Coughs caused by other conditions, such as asthma or croup, are sometimes treated using inhalers or medicines such as steroids. Your doctor will prescribe these medicines and explain how to use them if they are needed.
Will my child need antibiotics for a cold?
Most coughs are caused by cold viruses, so antibiotics will not help your child get better any faster. Antibiotics are only used to treat bacterial infections.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics when a cough is caused by a bacterial infection in the throat or chest, such as tonsillitis or pneumonia.
How can I prevent coughs and colds in my toddler?
It's not easy to ensure that your child doesn’t catch a cold. The child also builds immunity while going through these.
However, some measures can be taken to keep the baby protected:
- Teach frequent handwashing.
- If someone at home has a cold, they should cough/sneeze into their elbow or a tissue.
- Anyone in the household fearing a cold is coming should keep their utensils separate and not share food from the same bowl.
- Make sure your toddler eats a well-balanced diet.
- Sleep is important. Your toddler’s afternoon naps help the body restore.
There is some evidence that regular zinc and probiotic supplements may reduce the number of colds children get over time. Do discuss this with your paediatrician.
When should I take my toddler to a doctor for a cough or a cold?
Do watch the child to note how much discomfort they have. If our instinct says that the child needs to see a doctor, do not postpone it.
If the child is showing the following symptoms, do see a doctor immediately:
- Wheezing or whistling sounds as they breathe
- a 'sucking in' of the skin around the throat or under the ribs when breathing in
- flaring of nostrils when breathing
- breathlessness (only being able to speak a few words at a time)
- fever of 101°
- Has blue lips,
- is coughing so badly that they are choking or vomiting,
- wakes in the morning with one or both eyes stuck shut with dried yellow pus,
- is much sleepier than usual, doesn’t want to feed or play, or is very fussy and cannot be comforted, or
- has thick or coloured (yellow, green) discharge from the nose for more than 10 to 14 days.
Ayurveda for toddler’s cough and cold
- Keep baby warm - avoid exposure to breeze, wind and cool environment. Cover scalp, ears and feet.
- Boost your immunity - If the baby is on breast milk, mumma should boost her immunity by taking jeera, black pepper and spices in her food. Mumma can also have a cup of milk boiled with 5 pinches of pepper powder and half a teaspoon of haldi before bed.
- Warm massage - If the baby is having a cold, cough and blocked nose, a gentle massage for 15 min by using warm coconut oil added with salt will help.
Mustard oil should be made warm by double boiling technique . Massage this onto your baby’s chest, upper back and hands. Give a warm water bath followed by this.
- Warm compress - Fill a clean towel with warm water and hold it against the baby's belly, face and chest, it helps to relieve the cough.
- Lick honey - If the baby is comfortable with licking honey, give 2-3 drops of honey in a day. Adding 1/4th teaspoon of cinnamon powder to honey can also help in relieving congestion.
- Dhoopana - Make a baby to inhale dhoopana prepared with black pepper, clove, neem and cinnamon.
- Inhale herbal pouch - Roast a teaspoon of ajwain , 2 cloves of garlic and 3/4 tulsi leaves in a dry pan. Bundle these herbs in a piece of muslin cloth and tie up tightly. Make the baby inhale this herbal pouch often throughout the day.
- Roast a teaspoon of anise seed and add it to a cup of warm water. Sweeten with palm candy and strain the water. Make the baby sip this water twice a day.
- For kids older than one year, add a drop of eucalyptus oil in warm water and give a sponge bath with that.
- Dry roast half teaspoon of cumin seeds and quarter teaspoon of pepper on low flame until aroma comes. Cool it down and prepare a fine powder of it. Mix this powder with a handful of mashed rice. Add little ghee to it and feed the baby.
- Make a paste with a pinch of dry ginger powder and water. Heat the paste and apply it over the baby's forehead in a lukewarm temperature. Wipe off the paste after 15 minutes. Same procedure can be carried out with Rasnadi choornam (ayurvedic powder) also.
- Melt ghee and add a pinch of powdered pepper. Feed this once a day. It helps only in dry cough .
- In a cough associated with congestion, dry roast 3 teaspoons of black pepper and make a fine powder out of it. Add equal amounts of jaggery and store it in an air-tight container. Let your kid have a pinch of it whenever they feel the onset of cough.
- Scalp massage - Add a few leaves of drumstick to warm coconut oil and leave it for half an hour. Give a gentle scalp massage with this.
- Place warm betel leaves over the chest for 3 minutes a day to relieve chest congestion.
- Add a few strands of saffron to warm milk and let it cool.Strain the milk and feed your baby.
- Herbal pouch prepared by roasting a teaspoon of ajwain, ¼ teaspoon of pepper can be placed near the baby's head while sleeping.
- Decoction (Kadha) for dry cough - A teaspoon of mulethi (yasti madhu) , 2 cloves (lavang) should be boiled in half a cup of water and strain it. Feed a tablespoon of this decoction twice a day.
- Decoction (Kadha) for wet cough - Half a teaspoon of pepper, a bit of cinnamon, 2 cardamoms should be boiled in half a cup of water and strain it. Feed a tablespoon of this decoction twice a day.
- Dry ginger candy - Pour 3 teaspoons of ghee in a pan and add ¾ teaspoons of jaggery powder to it and stir it in low flame. Once the jaggery melts, add 3 teaspoons of dry ginger powder to it and mix them well. Let it cool and make chickpea sized balls out of it. Feed one candy twice a day.
- Nasal drop - Instil a drop of Anu Taila ( ayurvedic nasal drops) in each nostril preferably during the day. This should be done every alternate day for 7 times.
- Haridra Khanda granules can be administered with honey in a dose of half teaspoon per day to kids to get rid of cough.
- Karpooradi Oil should be made lukewarm by double boiling. Apply this over the baby's chest and upper back. Give a sponge bath after 20 minutes of application.
- Chyavanaprasha lehyam - For children older than one year, a quarter teaspoon can be administered during bed time regularly. This works well in chronic dry cough.