Coughs, colds and kids - some facts & fictions!

Kids are back at school and nursery - and with the start of the Autumn term comes the usual flurry of coughs, colds and fevers. Of course it's essential to look out for warning signs, including dehydration and serious illness, including meningitis.

Kids are back at school and nursery - and with the start of the Autumn term comes the usual flurry of coughs, colds and fevers. Of course it's essential to look out for warning signs, including dehydration and serious illness, including meningitis. But most kids will bounce back within days, and there's little you can do to speed up their recovery.

It's hard to do clinical trials on the benefits of tender loving care and lots of cuddles, but I doubt you'd find a doctor who didn't recommend them highly.

But there are still lots of myths about how best to help your child, including:

  • "Antibiotics speed up recovery." In fact, most coughs, colds and fevers are caused by virus infections, and antibiotics don't have any effect on these at all. They can also cause side effects including, occasionally, severe allergic reactions, so can do more harm than good. I used to explain to patients, tongue firmly in my cheek, that giving kids with a cold antibiotics would do about as much good as giving them powdered elephant droppings, until one parent actually thought I was saying they should go out and buy those instead! If your doctor says your child doesn't need antibiotics, it's for a very good reason.
  • "Coughs and colds are caused by going outside in the cold or getting wet." In fact, kids are probably more likely to catch these viral infections by sitting indoors getting sneezed on by the child next to them! In children with asthma, wheezing can sometimes be triggered by sudden changes in temperature, but otherwise being outside in the fresh air, or going out with wet hair, won't do any harm at all.
  • "If my toddler has a cough, they need cough mixture." In fact, although lozenges may soothe sore throats, there's no evidence most cough and cold remedies work in younger children. In fact, because they can cause side effects, including effects on sleep, over-the-counter cough and cold remedies should no longer be given to any child under six years old.
  • "Paracetamol is best for reducing fever." In fact, paracetamol and ibuprofen are both equally effective for reducing fever and both start to work within about 15 minutes. Ibuprofen works for longer (for up to eight hours) than paracetamol (four to six hours), so may be a better choice, especially at night to provide all-night fever relief. Both can be given to children for pain and fever from the age of three months. To find about recommended dosage levels, always check and refer to the information provided when you buy these medicines. Your pharmacist can also offer expert advice.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.