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Friday 19 February 2016

The Little Munchkin Has Her 1st Cold - Cold and Flu Season For Babies and Young Children

Brianna, © 2016
My little Munchkin is just a little over 7 months old, and she just came down with her first cold. It's heartbreaking seeing her this way, and I've lost quite a bit of sleep over it. Since this is her first cold, it's time to discuss colds and flu in babies and young children.

We are fast into the winter season and the dreaded first cold hits, just as my daughter was getting used to a regular sleep and feeding schedule. Even though babies are born with some of their mother's immunity to illnesses, which is enhanced by breastfeeding, they're not fully protected from all viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. Most healthy babies will get sick on average of six to eight colds by their first birthday.

For many new parents like myself, the main concern is trying to decide if their baby has just a cold, or something more serious. Once you know the signs, it's easier to figure out.

Colds... From Start to End

The common cold comes on slowly and can last on average nine days. I like to break it down into cycles... three days coming, three days here, and three days going.

Three days coming...
It's during the first three days that you're child is contagious. She may seem fussier than usual, may have a decrease in appetite, and a fever. If she's less than three months old and her rectal temperature is above 100.4 degrees F., call your pediatrician's office asap. On the second or third day, you'll spot a runny nose, which signals that your child's immune system is fighting back. During this stage the mucus is clear and thin, and will run constantly.

Three days here...
During the middle phase of the cold, the fever has usually disappeared. Your baby will usually be less fussy, and might even be eating better. The mucus will thicken a bit, and might turn light yellow. Your child will now have the classic stuffy and runny nose. This is usually when they will develope a cough, which helps keep the fluid out of the lungs. Your child will most likely have a hard time sleeping in the stage.

Three days going...
This is the part where the cold is like a houseguest who stays too long! Colds tend to linger. In the final three days, the mucus thickens more and becomes crusty. Your baby will act normal in most ways, and will slowly start eating and resuming her regular activities.

Signs of the Flu

Now that you know what a typical cold looks like, it's time to talk about the flu. The flu usually peaks from mid November through March, and often for a few weeks at a time. Children can be contagious the day before symptoms start, and for as long as they show them, which can be weeks at a time.

Flu symptoms in kids and adults are very specific and include:

sudden onset of high fever (102 degrees or higher)
aching muscles
pain behind the eyes
a sore throat
a hacking cough

Preschoolers can say when their arms and legs hurt, and it's clear that your normally active child doesn't feel well when she won't get off the couch. However, these symptoms are harder to detect in babies and toddlers. Here are some guidelines: A cold comes on slowly over a few days, but the flu hits fast, sometimes within a few hours. The fever will last more than one or two days, and your child might not look much better after it breaks. You'll also see a big decrease in her activity level and appetite, and coughing will be worse than with colds. Babies and toddlers can also experience diarrhea and vomiting. If you think your kid has the flu, call her doctor.

Is There a Magic Cure?

The simple truth: There is no quick fix for a cold or the flu. Antibiotics aren't effective against viruses, and antiviral drugs for some influenza strains aren't approved for babies. Plus, a growing body of research suggests that decongestants and combination decongestant-antihistamine products are not very effective in children, who can also experience side effects, such as jitteriness or difficulty sleeping. Most pediatricians don't recommend these medications for babies, and many are now advising parents to use them minimally for all kids. Nonprescription cough suppressants and expectorants have also been shown to have little effect on coughs linked to colds in kids, and experts advise against their use in children under age 14.

How to Avoid Colds and Flu

Take your child to the doctor for a flu shot. Although you can't always prevent your baby from getting a cold, you can help prevent the flu by having your baby vaccinated. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend that all infants 6 months of age to 5 years be vaccinated against the flu during the fall months. Every year the CDC creates a vaccine with the "best guess" of which strains of influenza will be present during the next flu season. Although not 100 percent protective, having your baby vaccinated will greatly reduce his or her chances of contracting the flu. Older children with chronic medical conditions and their siblings should also receive the influenza vaccine.

Keep sick friends and relatives away. This will not always be possible, but keeping your children away from other children or adults who are obviously sick will cut down on the number of infections. This is especially important during influenza outbreaks.

Teach children to wash hands. Washing hands is probably the best way to keep germs from spreading. Teach your child to wash both hands with soap and water for as long as the tune of "Happy Birthday." Many experts suggest this as long enough to kill most germs. Make sure all the adults in the house do the same.

Keep kids at arm's length when you're sick. Let another adult in the household who isn't ill care for the children in the first few days of the cold or flu. If you are breastfeeding, try not to breathe, cough, or sneeze directly onto your baby's face. Wash your hands frequently.

Telling the Difference Between Cold and Flu

Here are some clues:

Season: Although colds occur all year round, the influenza virus usually affects a community during the winter months between November and March, and usually for only a few weeks. Knowing if the flu has hit your neighborhood can be helpful.

Speed: The main difference between a cold and the flu is speed of onset. A cold comes on slowly over a few days, the flu comes on very rapidly, sometimes over a few hours. In small infants and toddlers, you will see a rapid and dramatic decrease in your baby's activity level and appetite. Your infant will "just not look right" or will appear very sick.

Symptoms: Both colds and flu cause high fevers in babies and toddlers, but with the flu, the fever will last more than one or two days, and your baby might not look much better after you treat the fever. Although both affect the upper respiratory system, the cough will be worse in flu, and there will be less of a congested nose. The flu can also cause diarrhea and vomiting in infants and toddlers.

When Do You Need to Call Your Doctor?

If your baby is listless, not reacting to you, has poor color, or if you just feel something isn't right.
If the cough is worsening or your child is having difficulty breathing.
If your baby is crying much more than usual, patting or pulling on the ear, or refusing nursing or drinking from a bottle.
If you suspect your infant has the flu, especially if he or she has a high fever and cough which persists for more than three days.

NOTE: Any infant under 3 months with a fever (rectal temperature of 100.8 or greater) must be seen.
If your older child has a high fever for more than five days, a worsening cough (with or without chest pain), a headache for more than five days, or a headache that is getting worse or is accompanied by a stiff neck.

The information is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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