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Care at Home

  • FOR A RUNNY NOSE WITH LOTS OF DISCHARGE: BLOW OR SUCTION THE NOSE * The nasal mucus and discharge is washing germs out of the nose and sinuses. * Blowing the nose is all that's needed. * For younger children, gently suction the nose with a suction bulb. * Put petroleum jelly on the skin under the nose. Wash the skin first with warm water. This will help to protect the nostrils from any redness.
  • NASAL WASHES TO OPEN A BLOCKED NOSE: * Use saline nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If you don't have saline, you can use warm tap water. * STEP 1: Put 3 drops in each nostril. (If age under 1 year old, use 1 drop. Also, do 1 side at a time.) * STEP 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril out while closing off the other nostril. Then, do the other side. * STEP 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear. * How often: Do nasal washes when your child can't breathe through the nose. Limit: No more than 4 times per day. * Saline nose drops or spray can be bought in any drugstore. No prescription is needed. * Saline nose drops can also be made at home. Use 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm water. * Reason for nose drops: Suction or blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus. Also, babies can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open. * Other option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow each nostril. * For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
  • HUMIDIFIER: * If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. * Reason: Dry air makes nasal mucus thicker.
  • MEDICINES FOR COLDS: * AGE LIMIT. Before 4 years, never use any cough or cold medicines. Reason: Unsafe and not approved by the FDA. Also, do not use products that contain more than one medicine. * COLD MEDICINES. They are not advised. Reason: They can't remove dried mucus from the nose. Nasal washes are the answer. * DECONGESTANTS. Decongestants by mouth (such as Sudafed) are not advised. They may help nasal congestion in older children. Decongestant nasal spray is preferred after age 12. * ALLERGY MEDICINES. They are not helpful, unless your child also has nasal allergies. They can also help an allergic cough. * NO ANTIBIOTICS. Antibiotics are not helpful for colds. Antibiotics may be used if your child gets an ear or sinus infection.
  • TREATMENT FOR OTHER SYMPTOMS OF COLDS: * Fever or Pain. Use acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen for muscle aches or headaches. You can also use these medicines for fever above 102° F (39° C). See Dose Table. * Sore Throat. For children over 1 year old, use warm chicken broth. If over 6 years of age, your child can also suck on hard candy. * Cough. For children over 1 year old, give honey 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (2 to 5 ml). If over 6 years of age, you can also use cough drops. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old. * Red Eyes. Rinse eyelids often with wet cotton balls.
  • RETURN TO SCHOOL: * Your child can go back to school after the fever is gone. Your child should also feel well enough to join in normal activities. * For practical purposes, the spread of colds can't be prevented.
  • WHAT TO EXPECT: * Fever can last 2-3 days * Nasal drainage can last 7-14 days * Cough can last 2-3 weeks
  • CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF: * Earache occurs * Fever lasts more than 3 days * Any fever if under 12 weeks old * Nasal discharge lasts more than 14 days * Cough lasts more than 3 weeks * Your child becomes worse
  • WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: * It's normal for healthy children to get at least 6 colds a year. This is because there are so many viruses that cause colds. With each new cold, your child's body builds up immunity to that virus. * Most parents know when their child has a cold. Sometimes, they have it too or other children in school have it. Most often, you don't need to call or see your child's doctor. You do need to call your child's doctor if your child develops a complication. Examples are an earache or if the symptoms last too long. * The normal cold lasts about 2 weeks. There are no drugs to make it go away sooner. * But, there are good ways to help many of the symptoms. With most colds, the starting symptom is a runny nose. This is followed in 3 or 4 days by a stuffy nose. The treatment for each is different. * Here is some care advice that should help.
  • FLUIDS: * Try to get your child to drink lots of fluids. * Goal: Keep your child well hydrated. * It also will thin out the mucus discharge from the nose. * It also loosens up any phlegm in the lungs. Then it's easier to cough up.
  • EXTRA ADVICE - AIR TRAVEL WITH COLDS: * It's safe to fly when your child has a cold. * He could get some mild ear congestion or even a brief earache while flying. Most often, that can be prevented. (See # 12). * Flying will not cause an ear infection.
  • EXTRA ADVICE - PREVENT EAR CONGESTION DURING AIR TRAVEL: * Most symptoms happen when the airplane is coming down in altitude. This is the descent of the plane during the 15 minutes before landing. * Keep your child awake during takeoff and descent. * Swallow during descent using fluids or a pacifier. * Children over age 4 can chew gum during descent. * Yawning during descent also can open the middle ear. * Drink lots of fluids throughout the flight. This will prevent the nasal secretions from drying out.


The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

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