Olivia Ostrow and Janet Reynolds
Colder weather is upon us again – and so is cold and flu season. Almost two years after the fight against COVID-19 began, we welcome children returning to school, daycare and sports. But with the loosening of restrictions and increased social contact, we are also seeing an increased circulation of common seasonal respiratory viruses.
Children show symptoms of coughs and colds, including fever, congestion, and sore throat due to the co-circulation of other respiratory viruses with COVID-19. While the occasional cold is a part of childhood, illnesses today bring additional stress, anxiety and challenges for families.
Cold and flu symptoms often mean an absence from school, daycare and other activities, as well as a trip for a COVID-19 test. It can also mean sleepless nights caring for a sick child while managing personal and professional demands.
For many, these challenges do not end with a negative COVID-19 test.
Often, children continue to experience cold symptoms for days and sometimes weeks due to respiratory viruses. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can also be difficult to get in-person medical care for children with these symptoms when needed.
Some parents even line up long in the emergency department if they can’t get their child to see their health care provider in person. It can be a stressful experience for parents and children, and lead to longer wait times for those who really need emergency care.
Some parents may ask their doctor for an antibiotic for their child in the hopes that the antibiotic will quickly clear up the fever, cough, and other symptoms their child is experiencing. Unfortunately, antibiotics only work for bacterial infections and do not help respiratory viruses. In fact, unnecessary prescriptions and the use of antibiotics can be harmful to children and lead to unwanted side effects, including upset stomach and diarrhea.
It is important to note that if antibiotics are used unnecessarily, they may not work as well when they are really needed.
The further complication of the pandemic is that children with viral symptoms, such as an isolated cough, are urged to stay home from school and other settings until their symptoms disappear completely. But antibiotics are not the answer.
Over-the-counter cough and cold syrups and medications also don’t usually work and are not safe for children five and under.
The reality is, we don’t have a quick fix for cold and flu symptoms. Symptoms tend to go away on their own and get better with supportive treatments that include plenty of rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medications to manage fevers, aches and pains.
As health care providers, we also want cold symptoms in children to go away as quickly as possible. It’s important to make sure routine childhood immunizations are up to date and to get an annual flu shot if your child is six months or older. Despite these measures, experiencing an occasional respiratory virus is a normal part of childhood. Resolving cold and flu symptoms often takes time and patience.
Talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about your child’s symptoms to clarify their diagnosis and learn what you can do to help them feel better during cold and cold season. flu.
Dr. Olivia Ostrow is a pediatric emergency physician at the Hospital for Sick Children, Associate Director of the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety (CQuIPS) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Toronto. Dr. Janet Reynolds is a family physician in Calgary, Alta., And Medical Director of Crowfoot Village Family Practice.