How can I deal with my baby's cold?

Dear Doctor,
My three-week-old baby recently caught the flu from his two-year-old sister. I spend sleepless nights watching over him. I, however, would like you to recommend something that will help his blocked nose. He has difficulty breathing through his mouth. Everything I’ve read online seems risky to me. Is there something I can give him that will help him breathe better?

Dear Kate,

The young baby has definitely caught flu from his elder sister. Flu is contagious and spread by droplet infection. The affected person exhales germs of flu in the atmosphere while talking, coughing or sneezing. The germs enter the body of another person in vicinity via inhalation through the nose. Development of sickness depends on the load of microbes inhaled and the state of resistance of the body of another person. Infection can also spread through shared objects like contaminated handkerchiefs, mobile phones, toys, and etcetera.

Commonly, flu is caused by viral infection. It manifests as running of the nose, sneezing or blocked nose, either one or more of these problems. It may be accompanied by headache, low grade fever, malaise. The throat may also be involved leading to dry cough and throat pain. Infection can potentially spread to ears, causing ear pain or the lungs, causing pneumonia. The child may eat poorly and look inactive. He/she may have muscular pains. Infectious microbes may enter the gut, causing diarrhoea and or vomiting As such, viral flu is self-subsiding and is relieved without any active treatment within a week. However, superadded secondary bacterial infection may occur, causing high grade fever and headache. In this case, antibiotics would be needed for cure.

If the toddler has flu, let him rest. Ensure that he drinks plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated. Hot milk with honey, ginger or basil tea are some of the indigenous herbal treatments that can help. Putting two to three drops of saline in each nostril helps clear the blocked nose. Offering the child steam inhalation also helps to clear nasal congestion. Keep the child in front of steam (after holding him safely) for just a very short time. The steam inhaled will help to clear the blocked nose. The child is bound to cry after exposure to steam. It was said by a paediatrician that the more a child cries, more steam he will inhale which will be beneficial.

Never give on the counter cold or cough medications to a young child. Avoid using aspirin as well. In case of fever, syrup of acetaminophen or ibuprofen would benefit him, given in a dose suitable for his age. Antibiotics should be used only if a secondary bacterial infection is strongly suspected or detected by laboratory investigations.

If the child shows signs of respiratory distress, his lips turn blue, he shows signs of dehydration, develops a very high fever or severe listlessness, it is advisable to take him for emergency consultation.

Yearly influenza vaccine if available also prevents against flu. Good nutritious food, good cross ventilation in the houses or schools and good personal hygiene also help prevent flu.

Dr. Rachna Pande is a specialist
in internal medicine.