Dr. Labo Desalu
Dr. Labo Desalu is a pediatrician at Choice Pediatrics in Shreveport.
As we look forward to warmer temperatures when spring officially begins on March 20, it is also time to stock up on Kleenex tissue for our children. The time has come again when parents start dreading the runny and stuffy noses. There are two common causes of the runny nose at this time. It could be from a common cold or seasonal allergies. If you feel that your child is usually congested during this time every year, it may be from seasonal allergies.
These two conditions share some common symptoms, but are different conditions and require different treatments. The common cold is caused by viruses, so it is contagious and there may be a history of being in contact with another child with a cold. It can occur at any time of the year. Seasonal allergies tend to peak during spring and fall seasons in colder climate areas, or occur year round and peak in the warm humid months in the warmer climate areas such as Louisiana’s. Seasonal allergies are a response from the immune system that is triggered by exposure to allergens such as pollen and molds (indoor and outdoor). Some children tend to keep a wet nose all year and they are said to have perennial allergies (year round) and the triggers for them can also include animal dander and dust mites.
Due to the fact that the common cold and allergies share similar symptoms -- such as a cough, sneezing, runny/stuffy nose -- it is difficult to know what exactly the child has. The presence of fever and body aches/pains pretty much rules out allergies. A history of these symptoms occurring every year, a family history of allergies, mostly clear nasal drainage, increased nasal and eye itching, and clusters of early morning sneezing tend to point to allergies. The common cold tends to have a more acute onset of symptoms, a history of being in contact with someone with a cold, and there may be fever or generalized body aches.
Recent recommendations from the FDA and manufacturers are that cold and cough medicines should not be given to children under the age of four years. This is a hard one to follow both for parents and their physicians due to the fact that for decades, parents have come to rely on these medications to ease their children’s discomfort. The recommendation is due to the relative high risk versus the low benefits of the medications. These medicines do not get tested in children usually and the outcome from these testing in adults is applied to children. There is also evidence of a low benefit of these medications even among adults.
For the common cold the goal is to make children comfortable. It is easier to breathe and eat when their noses are cleaned out. This can be done by encouraging those that can blow their nose to do so frequently. The use of saline drops (which thins the nasal secretions) to the nostrils and suctioning a younger child’s nose before eating and sleeping should give a lot of relief. If there is pain or fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be offered to the child. If there is a need or desire to use any cold or cough medicine, consult your child’s physician and follow the directions carefully. Other non-conventional treatments such as humidifiers and menthol balms may or may not be helpful.
Treatment in allergies is usually more long term. It is very difficult to continue the allergy medicine that your physician recommends when the child looks good or is no longer congested. The role of the medications is to minimize or completely eliminate the immune response that will occur when the child comes in contact with the triggers. Since the time of exposure is always unpredictable, keeping them on their medicines during the peak season is the way to go to help minimize flare ups.
-- By Labo Desalu, MD, FAAP