A cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat. A child with a cold will display a runny or stuffy nose and may also have a fever and a sore throat. Cold viruses are spread from one person to another by hand contact, coughing and sneezing, not by cold air or drafts. A cold does not respond to antibiotics, so the only cure is time.
The average child under the age of 5 may have as many as eight to 10 colds per year. A fever associated with a cold may last a few days. A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier and a nasal aspirator are helpful in relieving symptoms, and acetaminophen may be used for any discomfort.
It is not necessary to see the doctor for a common cold; however, a child should be brought in if he or she exhibits any signs of a secondary or more serious infection. Signs to look for are: earache, worsening cough, wheezing, nasal drainage lasting longer than seven to 10 days, increased irritability, lethargy, unusual changes in behavior, a fever lasting more than three days or a “new fever.” A low-grade (102F or lower) fever is not uncommon at the start of a cold, but a temperature that arises after a few days could signal a secondary infection.