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Oklahoma City - Coughs, colds and sniffles are common during the winter months as respiratory viruses abound. And this time of year, many parents have questions about what illnesses to worry about, how to take care of them at home and when it’s time to head to the emergency room.

The Children’s Hospital is already seeing an increase in viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as well as the enterovirus and rhinovirus (which present cold-like symptoms).

Dr. Ryan Brown, pediatric emergency room physician at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, said parents’ focus should be on prevention this time of year.

He likens it to putting on a raincoat before going out into a storm:

“Prevention is key,” he said. “Get plenty of rest, eat well, and avoid illnesses by washing hands and by not being around sick people.”

But when prevention fails and a child come downs with a cold, the flu or the many other pesky viruses that increase in activity during the winter months, Brown said it’s important for parents to follow their instincts and know how to alleviate common symptoms.

How are colds and flu treated?

Most children recover from colds and flu on their own. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections, so they are not prescribed. Instead, treatment is focused on helping ease your child’s symptoms until the illness passes. To help your child feel better:

  • Give your child lots of fluids, such as water or electrolyte solutions to prevent dehydration.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
  • Have older children gargle with warm saltwater. Even drinking honey with warm water can help coughs and sore throats. Children younger than 1 should not consume honey.
  • To relieve nasal congestion, try saline nasal sprays. You can buy them without a prescription, and they’re safe for children. These are not the same as nasal decongestant sprays, which may make symptoms worse.
  • Use “children’s strength” medication for symptoms. Discuss all over-the-counter (OTC) products with your doctor before using them. Note: Do not give OTC cough and cold medications to a child younger than 6 unless the doctor tells you to do so.
  • Never give aspirin to a child younger than 18 who has a cold or flu. It could cause a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
  • Never give ibuprofen to an infant 6 months of age or younger.
  • Keep your child home until he or she has been fever-free for 24 hours.


To help children stay healthy:

  • Teach children to wash their hands often – before eating and after using the bathroom, playing with animals, or coughing or sneezing. Carry an alcohol-based hand gel (containing at least 60 percent alcohol) for times when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Remind children not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Ask your child’s doctor about a flu vaccination for your child. Vaccination is recommended for all children 6 months and older. The vaccination is given in the form of a shot or a nasal spray.

Tips for proper handwashing

  • Use warm water and plenty of soap. Work up a good lather.
  • Clean the whole hand, under the nails, between the fingers and up the wrists.
  • Wash for at least 15-20 seconds (as long as it takes to say the alphabet or sing “Happy Birthday.”) Don’t just wipe – scrub well.
  • Rinse well. Let the water run down the fingers, not up the wrists.
  • In a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.


When you should go to the emergency department

Brown said coming to the ER comes down to listening to your instincts.

“If your child is eating, drinking, pooping and playing, give them ibuprofen or acetaminophen and keep them hydrated,” he said. “It’s when symptoms start affecting your child’s breathing, eating and resting – that’s the point we may intervene and do something.”

Brown said if it’s possible, call your primary care provider first. Often they can see you quickly or offer helpful advice.

“If your gut tells you to come in, it is my job to listen to you,” Brown said. “If you bring a kid in, we’re more than happy to see them. We’re physicians, but we’re also teachers, and we’re here to help families.”

(These are guidelines; if at any point you believe your child needs immediate emergency care, take him or her to the closest emergency department or call 911):

  • Your child's skin or lips have turned blue
  • Your child is unresponsive

  • Your child has had a change in mental status, such as suddenly becoming unusually sleepy or difficult to wake, disoriented or confused
  • Your child is having serious trouble breathing (chest retracts and lips and/or fingers turn blue)
  • Your child has sustained a head injury with continuous vomiting or changes in level of alertness
  • Your child has ingested something you believe is dangerous. Call Poison Control first at 800-222-1222
  • Your child has suffered a blunt or penetrating injury to the eye and has eye pain

  • An object is stuck in your child (do not pull it out)
  • Your child has a cut in the skin that is bleeding and won't stop
  •  Your child has a stiff neck along with a fever
  • Your child has a rapid heartbeat that doesn't slow down
  • Your child has numbness, tingling, paralysis or weakness on one side of the body
  • Unexplained slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Severe headache or migraine along with blurred vision, difficulty speaking, numbness tingling or paralysis
  • Your child has swallowed something AND has difficulty breathing (call 911)
  • Seizures that won't stop
  • Your child has a fracture and the bone is sticking out
  • Anyone younger than 18 who may be suicidal, homicidal or felt to be a threat to themselves or others
  • Anyone younger than 18 who may have experienced acute sexual abuse or neglect


What to do if you're still unsure

When in doubt, bring them to Children’s. The Children’s Hospital has the only 24/7 pediatric emergency room in the metro, which means child-size equipment and pediatric specialists, as well as on-site labs and other tests. Remember that when you know the problem is minor, it's best to contact your child's doctor first. Also, download the Children’s OK Kids MD app for help with symptoms and finding your nearest ER. You can also visit for more information.





The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center has 314 inpatient beds and is the only freestanding pediatric hospital in Oklahoma solely dedicated to the treatment of children. Our pediatric staff blends years of specialized pediatric training with education, research and technology to treat conditions ranging from cardiothoracic and oncology-related illnesses to neonatal specialty care and pediatric solid-organ transplants. Our 93-bed neonatal intensive care unit provides the highest level of neonatal care in Oklahoma. The Children’s Heart Center brings cutting-edge research, treatment and surgery to patients with congenital and acquired heart conditions. We have the state’s largest staff of child life specialists to help children and families cope with hospitalization. U.S. News & World Report also ranks Children’s as one of the best urology programs in the country. To learn more, visit and find us on Facebook.