The healthy child. Kids, Colds, & Honey

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Every year, the northeast winter leads to a large burden of colds or upper respiratory infections.   

Colds can be very stubborn.  Some will last up to three weeks. Typically, an upper respiratory infection will start with a low-grade fever, congestion, and a cough.  Usually, the fever will resolve by 48 hours while the cough will start to improve by two weeks. If your child is playful, eating, and sleeping well, you can manage the illness at home. If there is congestion that does not improve within two weeks, a fever that does not resolve within two days, wheezing, or ear pain, you should call the pediatrician.    

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of OTC cough medication for children younger than six years old. Luckily, in 2012, an elegant study was published in Pediatrics that compared two teaspoons of honey to a “honey-tasting” placebo. The participants were split into two groups. One group received the honey cocktail while the other group received the placebo. After two nights, the parents of the children who received the honey cocktail noted that their kids slept better and coughed less than the children in the placebo group. Sometimes, kids do not want to take straight honey so I always recommend a “honey tea” mixture, which is two teaspoons of honey in warm water.  One note of caution, honey is not recommended for children under one year of age.   

There are a few other steps you can take to keep your young patient comfortable at home.  First, keep your child well hydrated with clear liquids. This will decrease the viscosity of your child’s secretions and make it easier to combat the virus. Second, use a cool mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom. Cold viruses prefer dry surfaces and this will moisten his or her mucosal surfaces. Third, administer normal nasal saline drops before eating or sleeping.  Fourth, raise the head of your toddler’s bed to combat post-nasal drip.   

You can also take steps to prevent the spread of the common cold. It seems simple but hand washing and covering your cough will go a long way to limiting the spread of a cold or flu. We also recommend that everyone older than six months of age receive the flu vaccine. Although most patients receive the flu vaccine in September and October, it is still worthwhile to get the flu vaccine now since the season extends into April.

Finally, I would like to address a couple of common questions we are often asked in the office. 

First, why is winter cold and flu season?  There is a higher prevalence of colds in the winter for a couple of reasons. As stated above, cold viruses prefer dry nasal surfaces. The decreased humidity and cold weather of the winter months make people more susceptible. Also, people spend more time in close contact during the winter months, which makes it easier to spread.  

Second, does milk increase the amount of mucous kids produce?  There is no relationship between mucous production and milk intake, although milk and soy thicken the mucous you already produce. There is no reason to avoid milk during a cold if it is soothing for your child.  More importantly, encourage water to keep your child comfortable. Good luck!

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