How to Prevent Kids From Catching the Common Cold

Filed under: Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Teens

girl sneezing picture

Teach your kids to sneeze or cough into a tissue or their elbow to help prevent a cold from spreading. Credit: Getty Images

With Halloween knocking at the door and Thanksgiving just around the corner, you know those dreaded sniffles and sneezes can't be far behind.

But, while there's no vaccine or proven medicine that can protect your kids from unpleasantness of the common cold, there are some simple steps that help prevent one.

Kids can get eight or more colds a year, making the cold the most common infectious disease in the United States and the number one reason kids visit the doctor and stay home from school, according to KidsHealth, a nonprofit organization devoted to children's health.

More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, with the rhinovirus being the most common type, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These rhinoviruses can spread through the air we breathe and the things we touch and then infiltrate the protective lining of the nose and throat.

The cold symptoms we experience are caused by our immune system's reaction to the virus in the body, and include sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing, watery eyes, mild headache and mild body aches, according to the CDC.

Colds usually last one to two weeks and are more common in late winter and early spring, reports AOL Health. One reason for this is that air that's dry -- indoors or out -- can lower resistance to infection by the viruses that cause colds, according to KidsHealth. Another has to do with the environment we find ourselves in during the winter months.

"In the winter time, we're indoors, so you're in a more enclosed environment," CDC spokesperson Jeff Dimond tells ParentDish. "Also, you'll see colds more often when school is in session, because you've got all the kids mixed together, transferring things back and forth."

And, while not wearing warm enough clothes when it's cold or going outside with wet hair does not actually cause a cold, Dimond tells ParentDish those things do lower your resistance, making you more susceptible to the virus. So, you can still use the threat of a cold as an excuse to get your kids to bundle up when they head outside.

Colds are most contagious during the first two to four days after symptoms appear, and may be contagious for up to three weeks, KidsHealth reports, so you never know when someone you come in contact with may be brewing cold germs.

The common cold is spread through contact with invisible droplets of the virus in the air from people coughing or sneezing, or on skin or other surfaces. It's always advisable to stay away from anyone who has a cold, KidsHealth reports, though we all know this is completely impractical for kids in school or day care situations.

"You can pick up the cold virus on a stair handrail, a computer keyboard, elevator buttons -- all of the places the public goes," Dimond says. "It'll transfer off the button onto your hand, then you take your hand and scratch your mouth, rub your nose or eyes, and you've transferred it to your body."

For this reason, the number one way for kids to prevent colds is to wash their hands, Dimond advises.

"Always wash your hands as often as you can, and if you can't wash with warm water and soap, use a hand sanitizer," says Dimond, who also offers some other suggestions for cold prevention:

  • Kids should be taught to cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze, either into a tissue or via the "elbow technique," where they cough into the bend of their elbow. They definitely should not cough or sneeze into their hands.
  • Another no-no for kids is sharing eating and drinking utensils or towels with anyone else, since you don't know who may be harboring a cold virus.
  • Keep your kids away from anyone who's smoking, as secondhand smoke is a respiratory irritant, and can make kids more likely to get sick
Claims have been made that taking extra zinc or Vitamin C, or herbal remedies such as echinacea, can prevent or cure the common cold. But Dimond says these, like over-the-counter cold medicines and pain relievers, are really just designed to provide symptom relief.

"Actually, your mother was a lot smarter than you think," Dimond tells ParentDish. "Chicken soup is great for symptom relief because of the protein from the chicken, vitamins from carrots, potatoes and lots of vegetables and lots of garlic. Garlic is an expectorant and will help clear things out."

But never take antibiotics for a common cold, Dimond cautions.

"Not only do antibiotics not cure the cold, but they make you more antibiotic resistant for when you do have an infection," he says.

Most importantly, make sure to take your child to see a doctor if you think he or she may have developed a respiratory or other infection.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.