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Learn to Tell When a Cold Isn't Just a Cold

September 26, 2006

    The common cold may be uncommonly worrisome for any parent watching a beloved child suffer from sneezing, coughing, fever or vomiting. Although most colds can be treated at home with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medication, sometimes the symptoms become severe enough to go to the emergency room for treatment. How does a parent know whether their child just has a bad cold or if the illness has become more serious?

    Dr. Kadeer M. Halimi, a Washington Hospital Emergency Department staff physician and Fellow of the American Board of Emergency Medicine advises parents to trust their instincts when it comes to judging the seriousness of a cough or cold. "It all depends on how the parents feel their kids are doing,” Halimi says. "If the cold is something that’s not getting better, despite getting medication, or a call to the pediatrician or an advice nurse, then they can come to the emergency room. Or sometimes, symptoms get worse in the middle of the night and the parents can’t contact their regular pediatrician. They can make a trip to the ER and we’re always happy to see them.”

    On Wednesday, October 4, Dr. Halimi will present a free Health & Wellness seminar titled: "Children: Coughs, Colds and Other Lung Problems” at Washington Hospital. Dr. Halimi will discuss the more serious signs and symptoms of a child’s cold that may require a trip to the emergency room. He will also recommend medication and methods to treat cold and cough symptoms.

    The typical children’s cold with cough, mucous congestion, fever and body ache usually don't need to see a doctor. A child may get some relief by taking acetaminophen found in children's Tylenol or ibuprofen in children's Motrin, which help bring down a fever. Breathing cool, moist air, produced by a humidifier or even from just opening the window, can bring relief to cold sufferers.

    "Most coughs and colds are typical upper respiratory infections that go away with supportive care ῜ fluids, nutrition, rest and medication,” Halimi says. "If the child is getting better in two to three days, great. But if they are not getting better, or have trouble breathing, or can’t retain fluids because of vomiting, then it is time to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.”

    An emergency room visit is necessary if a child has a fever that won’t come down with Tylenol or Motrin. High fevers accompanied by a stiff neck, shaking chills, low fluid intake, mental confusion or a refusal to wake up are serious symptoms that require a trip to the emergency room. Infants with a fever higher than 100.4 degrees need to see a doctor immediately.

    Parents need to bring a child to the emergency room who is limp or lacks energy, goes for several hours without urinating or has a dry nose or mouth. These can be symptoms of dehydration and the child may need intravenous hydration.

     A child with any type of breathing difficulties should take a trip to the emergency room. Shortness of breath, wheezing or rapid breathing may be indicators of a lung problem and the child should be seen by a doctor right away.

    Taking your child to an urgent care center is another option to consider if the condition isn’t life threatening. Urgent care facilities specialize in treating minor medical conditions that may become life threatening if not taken care of urgently.

    Washington Hospital operates four health care clinics in the Tri-City area that treat non life-threatening problems such as respiratory infections, colds, coughs, flu-related symptoms, fevers, vomiting, earache, and minor cuts requiring stitches.  

    Dr. Halimi’s primary message to parents of sick children is to "be vigilant.”

    "Kids get coughs and colds all the time. Most can be treated with supportive care at home. But if it persists, go to a primary care physician, pediatrician or the emergency room,” Halimi says.

    The Health and Wellness seminar: "Children: Coughs, Colds and Other Lung Problems” will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4, in Rooms A & B of the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium located at 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont. For more information or to register for this class, please call Health Connection at (800) 963-7070.

    To find a Washington Clinic close to you, visit www.whhs.com, click on "Our Facilities” and select "Washington Hospital Clinics” from the drop-down menu.

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