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Colds & Cough

There are more than 200 commonly encountered respiratory viruses. Most affect the upper airways; nasal passages, sinuses, throat and tonsils. They cause congestion, a runny nose, and a cough as the increased secretions trigger cough receptors along the back of the throat. The tonsils and adenoids are major defense points against respiratory infections and are the site of local antibody production. As the local immune systems gets geared up, the tonsils and adenoids becomes slightly swollen and boggy. Histamine is released and mucus formation increases. The mucus formed during a cold is loaded with antibodies and other substances that help fight the virus.

At the beginning of a cold, the mucus is clear. After several days, it can turn yellow as old cells are shed. Amongst the debris can be some low grade bacteria that normally live in the nose and throat. Antibiotics are not needed even though the mucus is yellow. However, if a child has a high fever (> 102) at this point of a cold, this could indicate an infection with pathogenic bacteria such as group A strep, pneumococcus. or haemophilus.

Fighting a Cold

The best way to fight a cold is keeping the immune system strong.

Sleep

Sleep is important. It is well known that sleep deprived teenagers have a weaker defense. Most people fighting off a cold get an urge to sleep more . This is because of the high levels of the substance interferon being produced by the immune system.

Staying warm

If a person with a cold gets chilled, they sometimes seem more prone to secondary bacterial infections. Being outside in the cold for short periods is fine – it actually helps clear secretions by making a person’s nose “run”. Exercising outside in the cold: brisk walks, skating and skiing are also good. However, standing still outside in the cold – waiting for a bus, watching a parade or soccer game, waiting in long line for a ski -lift is not good. Hypothermia is known to weaken the immune system. It is also thought that cold, driving wind might chill the cilia along the respiratory lining, making a person more likely to develop a secondary bacterial infection.

Foods to help fight a cold

Vitamin C containing foods confer anti-bacterial qualities to mucus.

  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Cranberry juice
  • White grape juice
  • Rose hip tea : a natural decongestant (available in supermarkets as Celestial Seasonings Zinger teas, Pompadour brand and in several Lipton and Bigelow non-caffeinated teas)
  • Pears. Infants can be given pureed pears – it helps digest the phlegm the infants swallow when they have a cold.

Soups:

  • Chicken soup and other broths contains zinc and other trace elements which are good for mucosal immunity.
  • Spicy foods help the sinuses

Alleviating Nasal Congestion

Here are some ways to help alleviate nasal congestion in a young child who can’t blow his/her nose:

  • Placing a tissue or warm paper towel on the side of the child’s nose, and with gentle pressure, wipe down towards the nostril . This loosens the secretions and lets you scoop them up in the tissue.
  • A nasal bulb syringe can also be used. However, only use an aspirator that can be thoroughly clean and do not insert it deeply into the nostril.
  • If the secretions are dry, you can instill a drop of infant’s normal saline drops (Ayr) before using the aspirator..
  • Positioning: when infants have a cold, sleeping at an incline helps them clear the secretions. The baby can be positioned about 15 degrees upright with wedges. Some parents will put the baby on a bouncy seat and place the bouncy seat in the crib.
  • Increased humidity helps loosen nasal congestion. If the air is dry in your home, running the shower briefly, or hanging a wet towel over a radiator will moisten the air. Humidifiers should be used with caution in that they can collect mold if not cleaned regularly with a dilute solution of bleach. Also, if a family lives in a basement apartment or house that already has high humidity, using a humidifer can make the house “too humid”. This can worsen some allergies by promoting mold.

Antihistamines

The only over the counter medicine I use for colds is a low dose of the simple anti-histamine Benadryl (diphenhydramine). It can be given at bedtime or naptime to transiently decrease the nasal secretions and cough due to post nasal drip. It should not be given throughout the day in that drying up secretions is not a good idea. You want the respiratory secretions to drain, and not be dried up.

The usual side effect of antihistamines is drowsiness, however some children respond in the opposite way – hyperactivity.