We have many harmful health care practices that are being passed down for generations. There’s a widely-held belief that cough syrups play an important role in treating cold.
However, cough syrups are basically useless, says child specialist Dr Anokhi Khanum. “Evidence-based medicine has shown this. Any child below six years should not be given cough syrups of any sort. In the UK, US and Switzerland these are never given.”
Cough suppressants, on the other hand, can be very dangerous and may stop the child from breathing, says the paediatrician.
So what does work?
The most important thing is prevention, says Dr Khanum. This includes your child’s vaccination as well as that of the family members in the house.
Everyone older than six months old should get their flu vaccine each year before the flu season (in October). The kids below eight years who haven’t gotten their flu shot should get two doses the first time four weeks apart and then one every year, advised Dr Khanum.
The second important thing is hand washing. It is not enough to use hand sanitisers, says the paediatrician, because they just spread the germs around in the same place. You need to wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
Most respiratory infections in children are caused by viruses in the upper respiratory tract, Dr Anokhi explained. Kids have difficulty breathing or breathe noisily because their noses are blocked.
“Children are predominantly nasal breathers,” said Dr Anokhi. “When they have colds or stuffy noses it’s necessary to regularly clean the nose so they can breathe properly. Put salt water drops in the nose, use an aspirator and extract the snot after five minutes.”
She also advised against giving nasal decongestants to children.
Red flags to watch out for
Any child below three months, particularly newborns, should not have a fever, says Dr Khanum. If they develop fever, take them to the hospital immediately. “You need to treat it as sepsis [life-threatening blood infection] until proven otherwise.”
The other warning signs to look out for are changes in the child’s feeding and breathing.
If the child is drinking less than half the regular quantity of milk, take them to the doctor, said the child specialist. “Even if there’s no fever, not feeding means their nutrition is affected so don’t take it lightly.”
She says a child will usually eat less if the nose is blocked.
Also, be wary of very rapid breathing in a sick child, warned Dr Khanum. Kids normally breathe faster than adults but if there is fast breathing at rest with rib depressions, they need to be taken to the hospital.
Finally, Dr Khanum advised parents to stop pressurising doctors to prescribe antibiotics to their young children. Antibiotics will be given for secondary infections only if your doctor believes they’re necessary, she said.