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Most kids need only time to beat a cold.

Byline: YOUR HEALTH By Todd Huffman For The Register-Guard

Your child's nose is running. She's coughing, and she has a sore throat and a headache. She's been sick for two days and has a low-grade fever.

Does she have a cold or allergies or a sinus infection? Or could she have the flu? How do you tell the difference?

Allergies seldom cause a sore throat, and never cause a fever. Colds, on the other hand, usually begin with a sore or scratchy throat, along with a low-grade fever usually less than 102 degrees, and clear nasal drainage often accompanied by sneezing.

Postnasal drip causes the sore throat, and the cough that often soon begins.

Colds cause a tired sensation and an increased need for sleep, although for young children's sleep may be difficult due to congestion and cough.

Fevers are a normal and expected part of the way your child's body fights a cold.

Fever may last up to three days, while the infection may last up to two weeks. After a few days, the nasal secretions may become thicker and darker, which usually does not indicate a sinus infection.

Myths about colds abound. Colds are not caused by going hatless on a windy day. Nor are they caused by sleeping near an open window or getting your feet wet.

Colds - known to doctors as upper respiratory infections - are almost always caused by a virus. And viruses cannot be treated by antibiotics.

There are more than 200 known cold viruses, and the average child gets six to eight colds each year. Colds are simply an unavoidable part of growing up.

Colds are highly contagious. Cold viruses are spread person to person either directly or by contaminated common surfaces, such as door and faucet handles, countertops and grocery cart handlebars. Colds generally occur more in winter and early spring, when we spend more time huddled indoors.

Cold viruses can cause a wide range of symptoms, including runny nose, sore throat, cough, fatigue, muscle aches, loss of appetite, swollen glands and headaches. The combination of symptoms experienced by one child may be very different from those experienced by another. We all differ in the strength of our immune system.

Sore throats are common with colds; most sore throats are not caused by a strep infection. However, a sore throat occurring for several days without congestion, cough and runny nose could represent a strep infection, and an office visit usually is necessary.

Sinus infections never occur out of the blue. There must first be ongoing allergies or an upper respiratory infection.

The classic signs of a sinus infection include a sudden new fever, worsening headache or worsening cough, especially at night. Sinus infections seldom occur until a cold has been ongoing for more than 10 days, although a few children seem to develop them more quickly.

Again, thickened or darkened nasal drainage does not usually indicate a sinus infection.

Some parents think the flu is a stomach bug. But while a few children may have nausea or vomiting with flu, influenza is also an upper respiratory infection.

Key flu symptoms include high fever, often above 102 degrees, chills and shakes, intense body aches, extreme fatigue, sore throat and a dry, hacking cough.

There is no such thing as "24-hour flu." The flu is caused by one of three types of influenza viruses, each of which causes illness that usually strike in the period from November through March.

February is the peak month for flu. The average length of a flu illness is seven to 10 days, with the worst symptoms during the first two to four days.

A word about fevers: Fevers are the way in which your child's body attempts to fight off an illness. Most viruses don't spread nearly as well within the body at temperatures above 100 degrees.

In fact, the more often parents give their children fever reducers early in an illness, the longer the illness is likely to last. Try to avoid fever reducers unless your child is very uncomfortable or is refusing to drink fluids.

There are still several reasons to be concerned about a fever.

Any baby younger than 2 months of age with a fever above 100.4 degrees needs medical attention, day or night. Any child older than 2 months with a fever that has lasted more than 72 hours or that has gone above 104 degrees should be seen by a doctor.

Finally, any fever that reappears later during the course an illness needs to be evaluated within 24 hours.

How can parents help their children feel better when they are sick? First, by being loving and patient.

Colds cannot be cured with medication. There is little use for medical attention for a cold unless for one of the fever reasons, or unless you suspect that your child has developed a secondary infection, such as an ear or sinus infection or pneumonia.

Most secondary infections come with new fevers, and a sudden worsening of the child's symptoms.

Next, give fluids, fluids and more fluids. It is OK if children don't eat as much when sick, so long as they drink plenty of fluids. Monitor your child's urine output and call the doctor if your child goes more than eight hours during the day without urinating.

Run a cool-mist vaporizer wherever your child is sleeping, to help keep the nasal drainage thin and flowing. Have your child take showers instead of baths. Allow for extra sleep.

Elevate your child's head during the night. For babies, place a pillow beneath one end of the mattress.

Avoid all over-the-counter cold medications in children younger than 2 years. Avoid cough medications for children younger than 5 years. Nasal saline drops and sprays are useful for babies and young children, especially before sleep and before eating.

Finally, reduce the spread of infection by washing hands frequently during fall and winter months or by using a hand sanitizer.

And avoid exposing children to cigarette smoke, which increases their susceptibility to colds and worsens their cold symptoms.

Dr. Todd Huffman has practiced pediatric medicine in the community for 12 years and is affiliated with McKenzie- Willamette Medical Center.
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Title Annotation:Springfield Extra; But watch for signs of more serious trouble that call for a doctor visit
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 19, 2009
Words:1028
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