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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

Help! It's cold and flu for managing as a parent.

Since the lifting of mask mandates and COVID19 protocols, coinciding with the return to in-person classes at schools, it seems like every week there’s a new cold or cough going around. Remember, our kids had been in virtual classes for some time, so many of them are being exposed to these circulating viruses for the first time.

It is said that the average child can get up to 6 to 8 colds a year after starting school for the first time. Sometimes it can seem that your child barely gets over one cold before another one comes along. Remember that young children can get a lot of colds because they haven’t had a chance to build up immunity to the many viruses that can cause these, but as they get older, they will usually gradually build up immunity and then get fewer colds. A cold is also called an upper respiratory tract infection (or a URTI). Most URTIs are caused by viruses, which are typically spread by coughs, sneezes, and direct contact.

What are common cold symptoms? Symptoms vary from person to person, but commonly include: a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, sore throat or eyes, cough, headache, red eyes, occasional fever, reduced appetite or tummy upset. These symptoms usually last anywhere from a few days to a week or more. Sometimes there may be secondary infections like a tonsillitis, ear infection or chest infection (pneumonia), and these may require antibiotic treatment.

What about the flu? The flu or influenza is caused by a virus – there are many types of influenza viruses, but the most common are Influenza A and B. Flu symptoms can be similar to the cold symptoms listed above, but may also include muscle aches, headaches, chills, nausea , vomiting and diarrhea. The flu is usually relatively mild in children but can cause complications like a pneumonia or myocarditis. Flu can also be more severe in children with underlying chronic health conditions or immunosuppression.

So how can I help my child at home?

There is no cure for the common cold – it’s caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t work for uncomplicated colds. But you can do things at home to help your child get better:

1. Encourage lots of fluids and rest. Offer extra breast feeds if your child is nursing, and the usual amount of formula for formula fed babies. For older children, encourage clear fluids, including oral rehydration solutions or coconut water.

2. Give paracetamol as recommended on the package for fever or pain.

3. Try saline nose drops or spray, once to each nostril, as needed to help relieve nasal congestion.

4. Run a vaporizer or humidifier in the bedroom at night.

5. Chest rubs, often containing menthol and eucalyptus, can help with night time congestion.

6. Turn off the air conditioner, especially at night. Open the window if possible or use a fan instead.

7. Certain foods, like lemon, ginger and honey (in children older than 1 year) may help relieve some of the cold symptoms.

8. Keep your child off school until they are better, and for kids that are old enough, encourage ‘safe coughs and sneezes’ ie into a tissue or handkerchief, with thorough handwashing after.

Do be careful with over the counter cough syrups, especially in children less than 6 years. Generally, they don’t shorten the duration of symptoms and can be associated with serious side effects in younger children.

When should I take my child to see a doctor?

The majority of colds will get better with time, and the supportive measures outlined above. However, do look out for red flags, and take your child to be seen by a doctor if any of the following are present:

1. Your child is refusing fluids, or is not tolerating oral fluids due to frequent vomiting.

2. Unusual tiredness or sleepiness.

3. Fever that doesn’t improve in 48 hours, or doesn’t respond to paracetamol

4. A cough that lasts more than 2 weeks.

5. Fever in a child that is younger than 3 months.

6. Your child is having difficulty breathing, sounds wheezy or is breathing faster or harder than normal.

7. Your child seems unusually pale.

8. Your child develops a rash that doesn’t disappear if you hold a glass pressed against it.

9. An intense headache that is not improved by paracetamol.

How do I help protect my children from getting more colds?

Unfortunately there are no magic pills to offer complete protection from colds and upper respiratory infections, but there are some steps you can take to help boost immunity and reduce the chances of recurrent colds and coughs:

1. Practise good handwashing, safe coughs and sneezes (into a tissue or handkerchief), and avoiding sharing bottles, cups and utensils with others who are unwell.

2. Eat a healthy well-balanced diet rich in whole unprocessed foods, and including a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, with lots of water.

3. In children who are picky eaters or have a limited diet, consider adding a daily multivitamin (which should contain the essential vitamins A,B,C,D and E).

4. Regular physical activity, especially outdoor free play, when children are well.

5. Practise good sleep hygiene – keep a consistent, regular bedtime and try to ensure a good night’s rest.

6. Avoid exposing your child to second-hand cigarette smoke.

7. Consider getting the annual flu vaccine for your family…typically the flu vaccine is licensed for children over 6 months of age. So do discuss this with your child’s doctor.

Be well,


Dr Paula Robertson is a busy mom, a paediatrician and a Positive Discipline Parenting instructor with over twenty years’ experience working with young people and their families. You can find out more at


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