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Should I Be Worried If My Child Gets Sick Too Often?

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Should I Be Worried If My Child Gets Sick Too Often?

Dec 27, 2021

It’s the time of year when your child gets sick over and over, and you wonder if they’ll ever be healthy again. They start to sniffle and you bundle them up to try to keep the sickness at bay. But contrary to popular belief, we don’t get sick because the weather’s too cold or because we’re not wearing the right amount of appropriate seasonal clothing. Dr. Cindy Gellner talks about when, why, and how children get colds and other winter infections. She’ll also discuss when you should worry if sneezing and coughing becomes too frequent.

Episode Transcript

It's the time of year where you wonder if your child will ever be healthy again. They get sick over and over and over. Is there a time to worry that colds and other infections are becoming too frequent?

How Many Colds Per Year Is Normal for Children?

Some children seem to always have the sniffles. They get one cold after another after another. And many parents wonder, "Isn't my child having too many colds? Is there something wrong with their immune system?" The truth is, children start to get colds after about six months of age when the immunity they received from their mom fades and they have to build up their own immune system.

Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers get about seven to eight colds a year. And during school age, they average five to six colds a year. Teenagers finally reach an adult level of four colds a year.

And in addition to colds, children get the lovely diarrhea illnesses, with or without vomiting, two to three times a year. Some children tend to get high fevers with most of their colds or they have a sensitive tummy and develop diarrhea with the cold symptoms.

Why Does My Child Get So Many Colds?

The main reason your child is getting all those infections is that he or she is being exposed to new viruses all the time. The viruses are everywhere no matter how much you sanitize and clean. There are at least 200 different cold viruses and they're getting tricky, mutating all the time.

Your child's body will build up defenses or immunity against these viruses when he or she is exposed to them but this takes time. It takes many years to build up immunity to viruses. Your child will be exposed to more if he or she attends daycare or preschool. Older brothers and sisters are also great vectors to bring home a virus from school.

Colds are more common in large families as the virus makes its rounds through house and back again. The rate of colds triples in the winter. Not because of the cold air, but because people tend to spend more time in crowded areas indoors together breathing re-circulated air. Smoking in the home also increases your child's susceptibility to colds.

Is It a Cold or Allergies?

If your child is over two, sneezes a lot, rubs their nose all the time and has a clear runny nose that lasts over a month and doesn't have a fever, your child may actually have allergies. This is especially true if these symptoms occur during pollen season, meaning the spring and the fall. But depending on what the allergy is to, they can have symptoms any time of the year. And your pediatrician can help you figure this out. Allergies are much easier to treat than the frequent colds because medications can help control the symptoms.

Quite often, parents wonder if a child is sick because they lack vitamins of because it's cold outside. Colds are not caused by a poor diet or the lack of vitamins. They are not caused by bad weather, air conditioners, or wet feet or hair, or even from playing outside without a coat on. Having all these colds is an unavoidable part of growing up. Colds can't be prevented, no matter what you see on TV or read on the Internet. They help build up your child's immune system.

Also, if your child gets a lot of ear infections, if doesn't mean that your child has a serious health problem. This means only that the tubes in the ear aren't draining properly. And if your child has repeated ear infections, talk to your child's pediatrician to see if they need to see an ears, nose, throat specialist.

Many parents are worried that their child has some serious underlying disease because they get a lot of colds. A child with an immune system disease doesn't get any more colds than the average child. They difference is that the child with an immune problem will have trouble recovering from the illness and they are often hospitalized for a long time as a result. They will also have numerous serious infections every year such as pneumonia or boils on the skin many times before they are even a year old. In addition, a child with a serious disease does not gain weight very well or look well between infections.

So how can I take care of my child with all these viruses that they get? First, look at your child's general health. If your child is vigorous and gaining weight, you don't have to worry about their health. Your child is no sicker than the average child of their age. Children get over colds by themselves. And although you can reduce the symptoms, you can't shorten the course of each cold.

Your child will muddle through just like every other child and the long-term outlook is good. The number of colds will decrease over the years as your child's body builds up a good antibodies supply to the various viruses. This means that by the time they are in the middle of elementary school, their bodies will know how to fight these viruses pretty darn well.

When Should I Send My Child Back to School After a Cold?

Next, send your child back to school as soon as possible. I know, schools are really picky about how many days a child can miss before the truancy police get involved. But the main requirements for returning your child to daycare or school is that the fever should be gone for a least 24 hours and the symptoms are not too noisy or distracting to classmates or the student themselves. It doesn't make sense to keep a child home until you are sure they will not spread any germs.

The first five days of a virus are the worst, but the cold symptoms can linger two to three weeks. The average length of time a cough lasts with these viruses going around right now is 18 days. So as long as your child's fever is gone, there is no reason he or she can not attend other activities such as parties, play dates, or school. Gym and team sports may need to be postponed for a few days until they are feeling up to the physical activity.

There are no instant cures of recurrent colds or other viral illnesses. Antibiotics are not helpful unless your child has develops complications such as an ear infection, sinus infection, or pneumonia. Having your child's tonsils removed is not helpful because colds are not caused by bad tonsils. Again, while it's hard in the short term, the best time to have these infections and develop immunity is during childhood.

updated: December 27, 2021
originally published: December 28, 2015