Ask the Expert: How Can I Make My Sick Kid Feel More Comfortable?

PediatricianOur pediatrician answers your health questions below:

Question: My child has a cough and cold; how can I make my sick kid feel more comfortable?

Answer: Viral infections during the winter months can seem unavoidable. I guess that's why they call it the “common cold.” If you have a young child, the statistics predict that he will have, on average, one viral infection per month. If he is in daycare or school, that incidence doubles. If each cold virus lasts 7-10 days, that's a lot of sick days over the course of a winter! For some kids, it can seem never ending. Cough, runny nose, fever, and congestion can make a child miserable. And as a parent, that's tough to watch. So what can you do for him?

Most importantly, know that it will pass. The worst of the symptoms typically last 1-3 days. Lingering, but less severe symptoms can follow and should resolve about a week after that. Missed days of work and broken nights of sleep can make this seem much longer, but hang in there!

As far as symptomatic treatments, there are a few tried and true remedies that can go a long way.

Young babies can benefit from nasal suction. Blue nasal suction bulbs are an old trick that can help move a boogie and provide temporary relief for a baby who just wants to feed or catch a nap. Many hospitals provide a blue suction bulb upon discharge for all newborns. You might just have come home with one. There are a few newfangled nasal suction devices on the market now that may also be useful. Humidified air can also be helpful. Many parents will use a cool mist humidifier in a child's room to help “loosen up” the congestion. Always be aware of and carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning these devices as they can grow potentially dangerous molds and bacteria.

Infants and children can also benefit from pain relievers. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, dosed appropriately, can help with headache, generalized muscle pains and other discomfort associated with a viral infection. Many parents don't think of these medicines unless their child has a fever. But these fever reducers are also pain relievers, and pain is a common symptom with a virus. If your child is super cranky, it is certainly worth a try.

Good hydration helps, as well. If you've ever been dehydrated, you know how miserable it feels. Although your child may not have much of an appetite, sips of fluids frequently is really important. Whether it is water, Pedialyte, fruit juice or Grandma's chicken soup recipe, fluids are good. Sometimes a Popsicle or Italian ice can be a fun way to get fluids in when kids are down.

If you've tried the above and still have a miserable child on your hands, be sure to call your pediatric clinician. A visit to the office or a trial of another over the counter medication may be recommended.