Advice on how to deal with childhood illnesses

Know how to treat your child
Know how to treat your child
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STEVE CANAVAN: Making a molehill out of Malcolm, my very minor ailment

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This week I wanted to look at dealing with common childhood illnesses.

When your children are ill, it can be very distressing. Younger children often find it hard to communicate their symptoms, which makes it even more difficult to deal with.

But most childhood illnesses can be dealt with at home following this very simple advice.

· The common cold

Children are much more likely to catch colds than adults. This is because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity to any of them as they’ve never been exposed to them before.

In fact, it is entirely normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year. As children grow older, they build up immunity and suffer from fewer colds.

Unfortuntely, as there is no cure for the common cold, the best way to deal with colds is at home.

This will also limit the spread of infection between children; say at school or on public transport. Ease the symptoms of a cold by increasing the amount of fluid your child normally drinks, treating pain, fever or discomfort with special children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen and using saline nose drops to relieve a stuffy nose (if unsure, ask your pharmacist, GP or health visitor about the different options).

· Coughs

There are many different types of cough your child might suffer from. Viral coughs will generally clear up and are nothing to worry about.

A warm drink of lemon and honey can be given to children over the age of one to soothe coughs. If your child has a persistently bad cough, consult your GP as it could be a sign of a chest infection, especially if it is accompanied by a high temperature and breathlessness.

Coughs which continue for a long time and are aggravated by exercise could be a sign of asthma. If you are at all worried, contact your GP.

· Sore throats

A sore throat can often be the first sign that a cold or flu is on its way. Just like treating a cold, sore throats can be soothed using children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen. If your child experiences a persistent sore throat or is unable to swallow fluids or saliva, see your GP to check that it isn’t something more serious.

· Ear infections

Like colds, ear infections are common in babies and small children and are often caused by viruses, meaning they can’t be treated with antibiotics.

They can sometimes cause a temperature but this, along with the pain, should clear up by itself. If your child has an ear infection, don’t be tempted to put eardrops, oil or cotton buds into their ear, unless you have been advised to do so by your GP.

Earache can be treated with children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen for 12 to 24 hours.

Repeated middle ear infections may lead to ‘glue ear’. This is the build-up of a sticky fluid in the ear and can be caused by having a parent who smokes, which also makes recovery slower.

It can affect your child’s hearing and cause unclear speech or behavioural problems.

Seek advice from your GP if you are concerned that your child may have glue ear or if they are having prolonged difficulties with their hearing.

· If you are concerned by your child’s health, ring NHS direct on 0845 4647, make an appointment with your GP or, if you think it might be more serious, take them to hospital.