What Every Parent Should Know About Coughs, Colds, Earaches, And Sore Throats

cold flu cough

For a lot of parents, this time of year is an exciting one especially with the holidays right around the corner. But at the same time, it can also be a stressful and concerning one as there’s a very good chance they will be fighting off plenty of coughs, colds, sneezes, earaches, and all of the viruses that their children will bring home with them from school. And you probably thought your Secret Santa partner was the only one with surprises, right?

As difficult as it is to keep our kids healthy at all times, fighting off the common cold and other sicknesses is not as difficult as it may seem. In fact, there are many different ways that you can ensure that your family stays healthy this holiday season. That’s why we have a guide to everything you need to know about the common cold, coughs, earaches and sore throats and what you need to do in order to help nurse your child back to his or her healthy self.

Common Cold

girl sick sipping tea
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The one thing about the common cold is that a lot of parents have a hard time differentiating it with the flu. But here’s what you need to keep in mind: the symptoms are quite different.

The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish and chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, or simply just feeling tired. According to Kids Health, people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, which are mild symptoms compared to what comes along with the flu. And don’t fret, as colds generally do not result in serious health problems.

Dr. Bernadette Antonyrajah, who is double board certified in Pediatrics Critical Care and Pediatrics at Advanced Kid Care in Orlando, Florida, says that the best practice to avoid the common cold is to watch your hands as often as possible with antibacterial soap, especially if you know someone who has been sick with the cold or any other virus. In other words, make sure that your children are always free of germs. She explains, "Generally, getting a good well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables and daily exercise will also help build your child's immune system in order to prevent colds and coughs."

Cold symptoms usually start two or three days after a person has been exposed to the virus. People with colds are most contagious for the first three or four days after the symptoms begin and can be contagious for up to three weeks. Although some colds can linger for as long as two weeks, most clear up within a week.

Dr. Antonyrajah also says that parents should absolutely consider getting the flu shot not only for themselves but for their children during every flu season, too. She says, "I always recommend that patients, especially children, be vaccinated annually against influenza. Influenza can start as what seems like a cold and kids can become sick very fast. It is important to make sure that children are vaccinated against the flu annually. It is also important to pay attention to coughs and are productive with sputum that's colored in nature. Any cough that has a fever associated with it or a cough needs to be looked into. As a doctor I'm worried that these coughs with fevers could potentially be pneumonia."


child coughing mom tissues
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Unfortunately, many different coughs might mean many different things. In other words, not all coughs are created or should be treated equally. A cough with a lot of mucus or phlegm usually is a sign of a cold, especially if your child also has a runny nose and sore throat. If the cough is accompanied by a fever and thick, green mucus, it could be a sinus infection.

According to WebMD, most coughs don't last more than a few weeks, but some people have ones that stick around long after other symptoms are gone. In a child, a cough is considered chronic if it lasts more than four weeks at any given time.

Dr. Antonyrajah also advises that parents pay attention to any coughing that might happen after a child runs or engages in any sort of activity. She adds, "Coughs that are also concerning are coughs that develop after exercise, night time at rest and during allergy season because we worry that these children may have asthma."

If their dry cough persists, make sure that they stay hydrated. Have your child take a steamy shower or use a humidifier in their room. You can also take over the counter medication to treat coughs.


sick child holding sore ear
Credit: iStock / TatyanaGl

If the earache is really bad, trust us that your child will let you know it. According to Parents.com, moms and dads might be able to spot other symptoms, such as earaches, ear drainage, trouble hearing or sleeping, ear tugging, poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially if they worsen over a certain amount of time.

Dr. Antonyrajah says, "The majority of ear infections are viral and can be initially treated without antibiotics. If it’s not resolving on its own and continues to be an issues then antibiotics are given for possible bacterial acute otitis media."

A lot of parents often use ice packs or warm compresses, like a heating pad or damp washcloth, to relieve pain that is often associated with earaches. The same can be done for simple ear pain. This method is safe for both children and adults. Place the ice pack or warm compress over the ear and alternate between warm and cold after 10 minutes. Also, before heading to your pediatrician, you can give your child pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Children's Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Children's Advil) to lessen the ear pain.

But at the same time, there’s a good chance that the earache might go away on its own. The treatment of a middle ear infection depends on how bad the symptoms are and what's causing the infection. Many infections will go away on their own and the only treatment necessary is medication for pain. And don't worry, parents: up to 80 percent of ear infections may go away without antibiotics.

Sore Throats

child sore throat coughing at breakfast
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In most cases, your child’s sore throat will improve with at-home treatment. However, you should take your child to his or her doctor if a severe sore throat and a fever over 101 degrees lasts longer than one to two days. You have difficulty sleeping because your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils or adenoids; or a red rash appears.

Also, you can give your toddler a Popsicle to help soothe their sore throat (which we are sure will delight them). According to Healthline, giving your child a sugar-free ice block is one way to assist with hydrating and sooth an irritated throat, especially for those who find swallowing water too painful.

If your child’s throat looks infected (or if it’s bright red, swollen or full of pus) take him or her to the doctor right away. If they are having trouble swallowing or opening wide and if their breathing is labored, it’s also a sign that something serious might be going on. Dr. Antonyrajah often tells concerned parents that "sore throats are similar [to earaches] in that many are viral but those accompanied with fevers, headaches, abdominal pain should also be checked out by the doctor in order to be able to make sure that it’s not a strep infection."

Otherwise, make sure that your child is getting plenty of sleep to help fight their body infection. Also, have them drink plenty of water, eat soothing foods and stay away from irritants. And remember, a happy child is a healthy child.

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