Thursday, June 9, 2011

For a cold that’s common, parents need to use just the same kind of sense

common cold
At least 20 per cent of all patients who walk into Dr Sohail Thobani’s clinic on a daily basis are infected with the common cold. Thobani, a consultant paediatrician at South City Hospital, explains how the common cold differs from other types of colds.

The common cold is caused by germs or virus that attack the upper respiratory system. Germs for the common cold can only spread through the mouth, therefore washing hands, yours and your children’s, is highly recommended to control the cold from spreading.

The common cold is not restricted to a season but you can catch it throughout the year.

Most, if not all, common colds are self resolving. There is no medication to reduce its duration from seven days to two or three, doctors say. Nor does bundling up your children and leaving them in a boiling, air-conditionless room help, rather it makes the child more uncomfortable. Treatment involves keeping your child comfortable in a cool environment. “You can be under-dressed in Antarctica and a child will not catch a common cold if they are not exposed to the germs and virus,” Thobani says.

Many parents believe a common solution for the cold is antibiotics. But doctors strongly advise against overusing them. Antibiotics should not be given to children unnecessarily. In the United States, for example, black box warnings on the cover are mandated by the authorities, alerting parents and healthcare providers about the safety concerns and side effects of the drug. Chair and Professor of Paediatrics at Aga Khan University Dr Anita Zaidi also strongly advises against the unnecessary use or overuse of antibiotics. She advises parents to be wary of doctors who prescribe them too often. “Overuse of antibiotics can harm a child’s immune system and has a way of harming a body’s natural way of healing.”

Home-made remedies such ‘podina ka pani’ and going to faith healers to speed recovery from the illness are also pointless, Thobani says. “It will take me all of 10 seconds to prescribe some medication for a child who does not need it,” he says. “In comparison it takes me four to five minutes to explain the concept to parents, even educated ones. Basically, I sell my time and if I am spending it explaining matters then parents should take heed.”

Zaidi highlights other common illnesses in children. “There are mainly four or five conditions that children face these days. Other than respiratory infections among other common illnesses is diarrhoea. This can be controlled by adopting simple hygienic practices.”

Severe diarrhoea, Zaidi says, is the most common reason for infants (1 year and younger) ending up in hospital. There are simple measures that may be taken to avoid this. One is to get your child the rotavirus vaccine. Two doses cost about Rs4,000 each. However, doctors are trying to make the vaccine part of the expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) in the next two years thus making it available to all children. “Despite its huge benefits, many parents, even educated ones who can afford it, do not know about the vaccine,” she says.

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