Because their immune systems are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to viruses and bacteria, and they tend to get sick more than grown ups. Most of the time, all kids need is a little symptom relief and comfort. Here's how you can help yours recover faster from colds, coughs, fevers and earaches.
1) Treating colds
Babies and kids typically get 6 to 8 colds a year -- just think of all the stuff they're constantly sticking into their mouths and it's easy to understand why. The good news: These infections actually help strengthen their immune systems down the line. Meanwhile, to help them feel better:
- Saline drops in the nose can reduce congestion (follow package directions for dosage). This is especially helpful for babies too young to blow their noses.
- Put a cool-mist vaporizer in his/her bedroom -- moist air helps alleviate congestion.
- For babies 3 months or younger, don't give any medication without talking to your doctor first (it can mask a fever, which requires immediate medical attention in infants; for more info, see "Fevers", below).
2) Soothing coughs
A cough often develops with a cold, and can be persistent. There's usually nothing to worry about, and the best thing to do is let it run its course.
To make your child more comfortable-
- Offer liquids to lubricate an irritated, cough-prone throat. For babies, nurse or bottle-feed more frequently. For children, give water, warm tea, or diluted juice (semi-frozen if you want, for its soothing chill).
- At bedtime, elevate your child's head with a wedge underneath his mattress.
- Always ask a pediatrician before giving a child under 3 years of age an over-the-counter cough preparation or decongestant.
- For all kids, avoid any medication that contains phenylpropanolamine, which may trigger seizures and increase the risk of stroke.
A fever indicates that the body is working to fight an infection, and is usually not a cause for concern. How your child is behaving is actually a better way to tell how ill she is. If your baby has a fever but plays normally (rather than being listless and fussy), there's probably nothing to worry about. Same goes for toddlers and older kids. As long as your child acts like she normally does, all you need to do is comfort her by:
- Making sure they gets plenty of rest.
- Giving them lots of fluids. Infants and toddlers may be given a commercial rehydration solution, after consulting with a doctor.
- Sponging them with tepid water or placing them in a bath of lukewarm water.
4) Ear infections
By age 3, 70% of children have had at least one ear infection. The vast majority occur when fluid accumulates in the middle ear and becomes infected (usually a bacterial infection), causing pain, swelling, and redness. If your baby seems uncomfortable and begins pulling on his ears, you may have an ear infection on your hands.
Preventing ear infections-
To lower your child's odds of getting an ear infection:
- Breastfeed: This is associated with a lower risk of ear infections.
- Feed upright: In young children, the ear's Eustachian tube goes in a straight line from the mouth to the nose to the ear, so when a child lies flat, formula or milk may drain through the tube into the middle ear and provide a meal for bacteria.
- Stop sniffles: Ear infections often follow colds, so cold-prevention tips matter: Remind kids to wash hands with soap and water after they cough or sneeze, and before meals.
- Don't smoke: Kids who are exposed to secondhand smoke get more ear infections; it irritates mucous membranes and damages tiny hairs in the middle ear.
Your child is bound to get his/her share of coughs, colds, and earaches when they're little. They'll become less frequent as their immune system strengthens. Meanwhile, be watchful of symptoms and give them plenty of immune-boosting foods, water, warmth and love.