Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coughs and Colds Build Immunity

by Kristin Lemmert

(The following is excerpted from Md.MD for Life 2010, out this month.)

You know the cough – the one from down the hall that wakes you in the middle of the night. Whether your child is 6 months or 6 years old, you start your assessment as soon as you hear it.

But before you hit your doctor’s number on speed dial, Sinai Hospital pediatrician Michael L. Zollicoffer, M.D., recommends that you take a deep breath.

Exposure is Good
Zollicoffer is sympathetic: as a parent, your agenda is to have a healthy child, he says. Like most moms, you want your kid better - now.

But 90 percent of the time, a cough is a just a cough – the frequent dance partner to a cold. With over 200 different cold viruses, gaining exposure to these viruses is a good thing. Zollicoffer even tells parents that their child should have a cold every day from birth to 3 years old. Congestion is normal, he says, which is tough for many parents to hear.

Children strengthen their immune system through repeated exposure to germs and viruses, he says. For exposed children, the “slow down” in colds occurs at the age of 3. For nonexposed kids, it starts when they begin school and typically takes three years.

When “Something’s” Different

When should you contact your child’s pediatrician about a cough? According to Dr. Zollicoffer, the answer varies from child to child. As long as children are active, let them process the cold. For example, a wet or dry cough is fine if your child is at her normal level of activity.

Instinctively, you know what is normal for your child, explains Zollicoffer. So, when you feel uncomfortable about your child’s condition and you recognize that something is different, contact your pediatrician.

These alerts include gasping for air, wheezing, high fever, lethargy, and refusal of all liquids and food. The most severe complications require a call to your doctor or urgent care cent immediately (e.g., being “hungry” for air), while lesser ones may be handled with an office visit. Better-known cold viruses include RSV, croup, and pneumonia.

For more information, request a copy of MdMD. You can visit us at or call 410-601-WELL.

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