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Treating Late Season Colds

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Even though the temperatures are really warming up and we are approaching the end of the “sick’” seasons, there are still a few children with lingering colds. The most frequently asked question is “how long does a cold last?” and everyone is disheartened to hear that a typical cold lasts anywhere from 7 – 14 days. (UGH, in unison).

Despite all of the medical science we have, a common cold due to a virus, still causes symptoms of congestion and or runny nose, sore throat, and cough. A cold usually begins two to four days after exposure to the offending virus. It often starts with a scratchy or sore throat and then is followed by the runny nose, congestion and cough. The nasal mucous usually begins as a clear discharge that is then followed by color change to green or yellow mucous, which then thins out and becomes less cloudy as the cold improves over the requisite 7 -10 day period.

In children it is not necessary for them to see their pediatrician for a common cold if they are fairly comfortable, do not show any signs of respiratory distress and do not have persistent fever of more than 48 – 72 hours. I am often more concerned about a child who has had a cold for a week and then develops a fever, which may signal a secondary infection, like an ear infection later into the course of a cold. Coughs often linger the longest but again should not be getting worse after a week, instead of improving, and your child should not have any respiratory distress or wheezing. Children can manage horrible sounding coughs, but look totally well and have no breathing problems, as they are quite comfortable in coughing very productively which is actually beneficial in keeping their chests clear.

For children whose cold seems more persistent or who seem to be getting worse instead of a little better each day (after the first 5 – 7 days), my rule of thumb is that they are seen in the office. Only by looking at their nose, throat, and ears and listening to their chest am I able to see if they are developing any secondary infections.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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