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Dispelling myths about colds: Keeping your child healthy: By Amanda Williams, DO
October 28, 2015

A typical child will catch five to eight colds this year – possibly more, if family or friends are around sharing their germs. While you can't completely germ-proof your child, you can learn to separate fact from fiction. This will keep your family healthier, in addition to saving time, money, and frustration. Start by putting some of the more common myths to rest.

Myth #1: Over-the-counter cough and cold remedies work well for children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for relieving cough, stuffiness, and runny noses are not effective for kids younger than 6 and actually can have harmful side effects. If your child is under 6, try children’s acetaminophen and safe home remedies.

A 2004 study found that common medicated cough syrups worked no better than the same amount of non-medicated syrup. A 2007 study found that honey worked better than cough syrup for kids 2 and older.

OTC medicines can be dangerous, especially when a child mistakenly gets more than the recommended dose. Kids can experience side effects such as upset stomach, drowsiness, rash and/or hives. Serious side effects, such as rapid heart rate, convulsions, and even death are possible. 7,000 children under the age of 11 are treated in U.S. emergency rooms every year after taking too much cough or cold medication.

Myth #2: Kids in daycare catch more colds than other children.

There's some truth behind this myth. In the first year of daycare, kids are more prone to catching colds than kids who are kept at home. However, according to a study of more than 135,000 children in Denmark from 1989 to 2004, the risk of infection goes down as a child continues to attend daycare. After one year in daycare, a child is at no more risk of illness than a child who stays at home.

Early exposure to germs may also reap benefits in the long run. A 2002 study published in the Archives of Adolescent and Pediatric Medicine found that kids who attended daycares as preschoolers had fewer colds in later years (up to age 13), presumably because they had built up immunity to the most common cold viruses.

Myth #3: Antibiotics can kill the germs that cause colds.

Treating a cold with antibiotics is like using eye drops to treat a hangnail. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and colds are caused by viruses, a type of germs that are nothing like bacteria.

Healthcare providers work to dispel this myth, but it just won't go away. Concerned parents pressure doctors for antibiotics to help their children, but facts are facts: No antibiotic – from penicillin to a Z-Pak – will help a cold.

Lack of effectiveness isn't the only reason to stay away from unnecessary antibiotics. The drugs can have side effects such as diarrhea and stomach cramps. Also, disease-causing bacteria can gradually build up a resistance to the drugs, making actual bacterial infections more difficult to treat.

In contrast, if your child develops a complication from a cold that involves bacteria, an antibiotic may prove beneficial. This may be the case if they develop bronchitis, an ear infection, or pneumonia, for example.

Myth #4: Dietary supplements such as zinc, vitamin C, and Echinacea can ease children's cold symptoms.

Maybe, maybe not. Many people swear, for example, that taking vitamin C at the first sign of a cold works every time. There's some research to support each supplement; the problem is, there's also research to dispute their effectiveness.

You'll find popular OTC remedies that contain these supplements. Airborne, which claims to boost immunity, contains vitamin C, Echinacea, and zinc. Gesundheit, a skin patch remedy, contains vitamins C, A, and Echinacea. The fact that they're popular doesn't mean that they work – or that they're safe.

Prior to giving your child any type of dietary supplement, in any form, have a discussion with his or her doctor. Even "natural" remedies can be unsafe – i.e., the Chinese herb ma huang, also known as ephedrine or ephedra. In adults, this herbal decongestant has been linked to irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, seizures, heart attack, and strokes.

Myth #5: Being cold or wet can make you catch a cold.

Only a cold virus can give you a cold. Being cold can't make you sick. Nonetheless, being cold and wet can cause a dormant virus (one that's already in your system) to flare up, producing symptoms.

In a 2005 study at Cardiff University's Common Cold Center in Wales, 90 volunteers submerged their feet in ice water for 20 minutes. Over the next five days, the chilled group had twice as many colds compared to the control group of 90 volunteers, whose feet had not been not chilled.

The research suggests that being chilled causes the blood vessels in the nose to constrict, prohibiting the warm blood that supplies infection-fighting white blood cells. Many people are carrying around cold germs but getting chilled can make it more difficult to fight off the effects.

Go ahead and tell your child to stay dry and bundle up, and hopefully these tips will keep your loved ones healthy through the winter.


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