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What are Recurrent Coughs and Colds?

A cold is mainly caused by a viral infection of your child’s nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). A cough is the body's way of removing irritants from the airway. Although colds and coughs normally clear on their own, sometimes a child may experience frequent or recurrent episodes that can be distressing. This could be due to several reasons and usually needs a thorough evaluation by a doctor.

Recurrent Coughs and Colds

Signs and Symptoms of Coughs and Colds

The most common symptoms your child may experience include runny nose, sore throat and feeling unwell. Other symptoms include:

  • Eye watering or crusting
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Earache or impaired hearing due to build-up of mucus behind the eardrums

Causes of Recurrent Coughs and Colds

Most coughs and colds are caused by various types of viruses, which are usually passed through the air via coughing and sneezing. Children typically can get about 8-10 colds or coughs in a year. A cough can persist for 2-4 weeks after a cold resolves. Recurrent or persistent colds and coughs may be associated with various factors such as:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Postnasal drip
  • Chronic sinusitis due to structural problems causing poor drainage of the sinuses
  • Smoke, dust or other irritants in the environment
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • Serious conditions such as cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis or cancer

What if Recurrent Coughs and Colds are Left Untreated?

Typically, coughs and colds get better without any complications. Persistent or recurrent colds and coughs should be evaluated to identify an underlying cause and to provide appropriate treatment before your child’s condition worsens. Call your doctor if your child has a high fever, extreme fatigue or trouble breathing.

Diagnosing Recurrent Coughs and Colds

Your doctor will first ask about your child’s medical history. This will be followed by a physical exam where vital signs including your child’s body temperature are measured. Your doctor will listen to your child’s lungs and heart with a stethoscope. A thorough medical history and physical exam will provide important clues about their recurrent coughs and colds.

If necessary, your doctor may order any of the below tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Throat swab
  • Phlegm sample
  • Blood sample (for infection)
  • Spirometry to check lung function

Treatment of Recurrent Coughs and Colds

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Adequate rest and fluid (preferably water) consumption may help your child’s body to fight off viruses. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to ease your child’s symptoms. Useful treatments include:

  • Saline nasal drops
  • Humidifiers or steam inhalation
  • Fever-controlling medication
  • Application of vapour rubs to your child’s chest and back
  • Zinc supplements to reduce the length and severity of cold
  • Vitamin C and D to lessen the duration and degree of overall symptoms
  • Cough drops (menthol or other medicated lozenges)

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