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Daily Dose

Treating an Upper Respiratory Infection

1:30 to read

With so much illness circulating right now (not all of which is flu) parents continue to ask what is the best way to treat their child’s cold and congestion?


Despite so many advances in medicine the treatment of viral respiratory illnesses has not changed that much over the years. But, we have become smarter and know that over the counter cough and cold medications are not recommended for children under the age of 6 or 7 years and may have side effects. Personally, I don’t recommend these products for older children or adolescents and don’t even take them when I get a cold.


The treatment of congestion and runny noses is symptomatic. You actually want your child’s nose to run and have them blow their noses once they are old enough to figure out how to “blow out rather than sniff in”. This keeps the upper airway and sinuses clear and also will help to prevent ear infections. Young children when congested, are more prone to ear infections for several reasons including the fact that their eustachian tubes don’t drain as well and that they cannot blow their noses which helps to keep the eustachian tube open and clear. It is a myth that green or yellow nasal discharge means you have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics. During most upper respiratory infections the color of the mucous will change from clear, to yellow/green, to cloudy before resolving….which usually takes a good 10-14 days. Green runny nose does not necessarily mean a trip to the pediatrician.


I like to have children of all ages take a steamy bath or shower to keep the nose running and then use a cool mist humidifier in their rooms at bedtime. I do not recommend running a humidifier continuously for weeks as this may promote mold growth, but use it while your child is ill.  I don’t recommend warm vaporizers either as they may cause burns in children. 


Nasal suctioning is also a good way to clear a baby or young child’s nose which will help them breathe more easily.  My patients parents LOVE the NoseFrida and many are “obsessed” about suctioning their child - even when they don’t have a cold.  I think our new grandson has a “NoseFrida” experience daily.  You really cannot “over suction” but if your child starts to dislike the nasal suctioning/bulb that you use and they cry constantly while suctioning their nose, especially children over 12-15 months of age, they will actually make more mucous and the whole suction experience may be counter productive. I also use a nasal saline like Little Remedies® Nose Drops or Spray, which helps to loosen and thin the mucous before I suction.  


I am also a big fan of Vicks or Mentholatum, which has been shown to relieve congestion. I remember my grandmother rubbing my chest and neck with Mentholatum and then putting a warm washcloth over it before I went to bed. It brings back memories of lots of “TLC” and also of feeling less congested before heading to bed. Many of my patient’s parents also like to put Vicks on their children’s feet and then put their socks on before bedtime.  


If your child’s nose is “stopped up” if may make it seem like they are having trouble breathing as it “sounds funny”. Look at their chest if you are concerned and make sure that they are not having any distress, with their ribs pulling in and out as they breathe or using their tummy muscles. Any labored breathing requires immediate evaluation!  In many situations all of those upper airway noises may go away after you suction their nose.  You should also watch your child’s overall color, they should be nice and pink and look comfortable despite all of the congestion in their nose. 




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