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Sneezes and Sniffles
By Linda Tapsell, RN

Along with colder weather and dreary days, winter brings the dreaded cold. And because of parents’ busy work schedules, you are likely to see many cases of the common cold in your child care setting.The common cold spreads easily through the air (coughing and sneezing) or through physical contact with saliva (food sharing or handling). It brings about sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, a sore throat, cough, and in some cases can include a headache, fever, and chills.Although there is no vaccine to prevent a cold, proper hand-washing can remove the viruses that cause the common cold. Prevention is the key.

How can this be accomplished in the child care setting?

In reality, children cannot be expected to wash their hands alone, nor can teachers be expected to disrupt the curriculum for 15 to 20 minutes to wash the hands of eight three-year-olds every time one of them sneezes. Practical suggestions for prevention include carrying tissues with you to wipe drippy noses before the children rub their nose on convenient shirt sleeves, carrying moist towelettes (preferably an antiseptic kind) to cleanse hands after touching runny noses, and washing your own hands as often as possible.

The following statements will help you recognize and understand the common cold while helping you protect yourself as you care for others.

1.Respiratory infections are common in early childhood.

2. A healthy child will have six to eight colds a year.

3. Many types of viruses can cause colds; a vaccine is not available.

4. Colds are self-limiting; medication does little to cure symptoms.

5. Colds make children miserable but not acutely ill.

6. Nasal discharge is the most common sign of a cold in children.

7. The common cold has a sudden onset (symptoms can appear within hours of exposure), is of short duration (lasting 5-7 days), and has pronounced symptoms (as described above).

8. No one, regardless of age, is immune from the cold.

9. It is easy for children to become dehydrated when ill due to fever, sweating, and runny nose; replenish fluids by encouraging the children to drink water and juices.

10. Some children will develop Otitis media (a middle ear infection) during their cold, which can lead to the prescribing of antibiotics. If your center administers medication and a parent requests antibiotic medication to be given, remember the following:

• Ask the parent if the medication needs to be refrigerated.

• Check the label before you give medication to make sure you are giving it to the correct child.

• Never share a prescription between siblings. A physician should prescribe all medications.

• Check the date a prescription was prescribed. Using a medication that was ordered a year ago is equivalent to giving the wrong medication.

• If a child vomits after receiving medication, repeat the dose. However, if you believe a child swallowed most of the medication before he or she vomited, do not readminister.

• Antibiotics must be taken for the prescribed time, usually seven to 14 days regardless of symptoms; if they are stopped too early resistant bacteria may continue to grow.

Linda Tapsell is a registered nurse who specializes in pediatrics. She has worked in early child care settings overseas, and is a freelance writer.