A cold is probably the illness your child gets most frequently. On average, a child under 7 gets seven to ten colds per year, each lasting one to two weeks. Children over 6 months don't usually need to see their health care provider for a cold unless there is ear pain, sore throat, or fever over 102 degrees that lasts longer than a day or two.
Another familiar fact: There's no cure for the common cold. Studies show that decongestants and cough medicines aren't very effective in reducing the symptoms or duration of a cold. Antibiotics are not necessary for an uncomplicated cold and may even set up a child for infections with resistant bacteria later on. The solution: liquids and rest.
Fever may accompany a cold or other viral or bacterial illness. You can usually wait a day or two to see if other symptoms or complaints develop before seeking medical care for your feverish toddler or preschooler. Fevers under 101 degrees generally do not need to be treated unless a child has a history of convulsions with fever.
How your child looks and behaves is more important than whether he has a fever, unless that fever is 104 degrees or more. If he is eating and sleeping reasonably well and is at least somewhat playful, you can watch and wait. You can certainly give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the fever is over 101 degrees or he just seems uncomfortable.
Diarrhea occurs frequently enough for it to be unsurprising in young children. It is caused most often by viruses, and when severe and prolonged it can result in dehydration, something that is dangerous and preventable. If your child has a watery bowel movement every one to two hours for more than eight hours, you should check with your health care provider. If there are fewer than six diarrhea events per day and your child is drinking plenty of liquids and is reasonably playful, you can wait a day or two to see if she gets better before calling. Continue to offer her regular diet as tolerated, but avoid fried foods or foods high in fiber such as beans or broccoli.
Time for Action
If your child under 6 urinates fewer than four times in 24 hours, has parched, dry lips, produces fewer tears when crying, and is significantly more lethargic, she is dehydrated. If she has loose stools containing blood or pus or accompanied by a fever over 103 degrees, contact your health care provider.
How to Help
Children over 3 years old are often embarrassed about diarrhea, particularly if they have accidents. Assure your child that this happens to lots of kids, and never scold him about an accident. If his bottom gets irritated, clean it well and then apply a thin film of petroleum jelly. Kids can be taught to do this themselves with some supervision.
Sipping room-temperature liquids slowly through a straw may help prevent dehydration without triggering a quick trip to the bathroom. Popsicles, Jello, and frozen juice cubes may be easier to get down for some kids. Remember, red drinks color diarrhea red, which shouldn't be confused with bloody diarrhea.
Steps to Prevention
How nice it would be if we could prevent all illness. Though that's impossible, it is possible to reduce the occurrence of many common illnesses. Thorough hand washing is the best way. Remind your child to wash his hands before eating, after using the toilet, and after wiping his nose. Other steps to take include establishing a regular sleep routine for your child, offering him a variety of healthful foods, and ensuring he gets plenty of physical activity.
On the positive side, minor illnesses in childhood help build a strong immune system that serves a child well her entire life. In addition, minor illnesses offer a time for your child to learn about her body, what germs are all about, and how healing occurs. She'll probably be very interested in why noses run and poop comes so often. You can help your child get a sense of how the body works and heals, how today is better than yesterday, and how others who were sick are now all better. This will give her a growing sense of herself and an understanding that sickness is a manageable part of life. Helping your preschooler this way helps her learn and grow.
Don't Forget the Hugs
Illnesses let your child in on special family rituals: more pillows, cool washcloths for fevered brows, drinks of 7-UP or ginger ale, yummy chicken soup, and special backrubs from Mom or Dad. Children will often slip back to a younger age of more cuddles and greater indulgences. Parents like that part too, as they are free to baby their baby. Make the snuggles a special time, and enjoy the opportunity. Things will be back to normal soon!