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Is it a cold, the flu, allergies or an infection? How can you tell what your child’s cough or sneeze means

Look for signs of RSV such as wheezing and cough. photos.com 2007

How the cough sounds and whether there’s a fever is important signs when determining whether it’s a cold or an upper respiratory infection or something more.
photos.com 2007

What’s going around right now? A lot: strep, some flu, but also a lot of cold viruses with an upper respiratory infection and of course, RSV.

How do you know if it’s a cold versus something more?  Dr. Rachel Osborne, a pediatrician and internist at Baylor Scott & White Health — Georgetown, says often a cold or upper respiratory infection has these symptoms:

  • A wet sounding cough
  • A runny nose with clear to yellow fluid
  • No fever to a low-grade fever of 99 to 100

And it’s highly contagious, spreading to multiple family members easily. Wash your hands frequently. Give Tylenol or Motrin if there is a fever and try to do some nasal spray or drops to flush everything out, and use a bulb syringe on kids that are too young to blow their nose. (Yes, we know, kids love that! Osborne suggests doing that when they are asleep if you can.)

How do you know if it’s reached infection stage where antibiotics would be needed? When it doubt, of course, see your doctor, Osborne says. “I don’t think it’s ever wrong to have parents bring their child in to be seen,” Osborne says. She’d rather give reassurance and education about signs to look for if a cold progresses rather than miss something potentially serious.

Upper respiratory infections aren’t fun, but doctors really worry about lower airways infections like bronchitis or pneumonia. Many of the symptoms are similar as the ones above, but some other symptoms might be:

  • A fever of 100.4 or more
  • Possibly a wheezing sound like they have asthma
  • It’s lasted a week or more.
  • Fatigue.
  • Not eating.

Kids that get frequent infections can develop reactive airway disease and eventually asthma. Doctors give an inhaler for that.

Know these warning signs that your child need to be treated immediately (it’s all about the breathing):

  • If they are breathing fast.
  • If the skin between their ribs is going in and out
  • If there are other signs of struggling for breath like lips turning blue
  • If they are extremely lethargic

Doctors will do a chest X-ray to look for infection as well as swab the nose. They might give fluids and oxygen.

Other signs to look for that mean it’s not just a cold:

  • A fever of 102 or greater.
  • Anything lasting more than 10 days.
  • Severe facial pain or pain in the gums that’s lasted three days or more (sinus infection).
  • A really bad sore throat that makes it extremely painful to swallow and that doesn’t usually come with nasal congestion (strep).
  • A barking cough (croup)
  • A high-pitched or whistling sound when they breath (croup).

If you suspect croup, try to keep kids calm and get seen by a doctor. Croup typically happens in kids 6 months to 5 years old and they might need steroids or an epinephrine shot to open up the airways.

Of course, with cedar fever and other allergies, symptoms can look and feel a lot like a cold. Those symptoms are:

  • Constant running nose that is clear
  • Post nasal drip
  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Pressure in their face and ears
  • Sneezing
  • Can have a low-grade fever

With colds and infections, follow the rule that you keep kids home from school and daycare for 24 hours after a fever of 100.4 or more. And, of course, if they are miserable and wouldn’t be able to participate, Osborne recommends a sick day as well.

She’ll be speaking more about respiratory illness on Feb. 17.

 

Managing respiratory Illness

Join Dr. Rachel Osborne, MD, pediatrician from Baylor Scott & White Health for a free discussion on managing respiratory infections and illnesses in children. Learn how to tell the difference between the common cold, allergies, croup, asthma, and winter-time “crud.”

When: 10:30 a.m. Feb. 17

Where: Baby Earth – Round Rock, 106 E. Old Settlers Blvd., D-100, Round Rock, Texas  78664

Information: RSVP requested. Please call 844. BSW.DOCS to register. Learn more at healthspeak.sw.org.


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