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5 Differences Between an Adult's Cold and a Child's Cold

By

Jennifer Fink

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The common cold strikes everyone, old and young. But your experience with a cold is far different than a young child’s experience. Here are five differences between adult colds and children’s colds.



Kids are more likely to run a fever.

Most cold symptoms—runny nose, cough and congestion—are the same in both kids and adults. Adults and kids may feel run-down with a cold and may sneeze or complain of sore, scratchy throats. But while adults rarely run fevers with colds, it’s not uncommon for a child to have a higher-than-normal temperature with a cold.

The good news is that fevers are not harmful. In fact, a fever is a sign that the body is fighting infection. So unless the fever is making your child uncomfortable, there’s no need to treat it. If the fever is causing discomfort, you can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as directed by your child’s physician or pharmacist.

Adults can rely on over-the-counter remedies to feel better.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration said that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications should not be used in children under the age of two. Later that year, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association voluntarily removed all infant formulations of cough and cold products from the market and slapped “do not use in children under four years of age” labels on all remaining products.

The move away from OTC cough and cold products for kids was prompted by safety concerns. Available evidence suggested that children were being harmed by unintentional overdoses of cough and cold medication—and that the medication was not effective in relieving children’s symptoms. As a result, doctors now recommend against giving OTC cough and cold medication to any child under the age of six.

Adults, on the other hand, can choose from a plethora of OTC cold remedies, all of which have proven to be safe for use. So an adult can pop a decongestant pill before work, while a child has to rely on natural remedies, such as saline nose drops or exposure to warm steam.

Colds make life more miserable for kids.

Adults know that colds are self-limiting and seldom serious. Little kids don’t know that fact; little kids simply feel miserable and don’t know why. To make matters worse, small children can’t blow their noses. When your nose is clogged, you can grab a tissue, blow your nose and feel temporarily better almost immediately. Preschool aged kids don’t have that kind of coordination, and babies can’t do it at all.

Worse yet: babies are obligate nose breathers. That means that they usually breathe through their noses. Infants can breathe through their mouths, but doing so is not second nature to them. So when a baby is stuffed up, he’s really uncomfortable. Further complicating matters is the fact that young babies need to be able to breathe through their noses while they suck and feed. No wonder babies with colds are so crabby!

Adults have more immunity to colds than kids do.

Generally-speaking, adult immune systems are more developed than children’s immune systems. Furthermore, the human body develops immunity to specific germs after encountering them. When a germ enters your body, your immune system starts building antibodies to fight that germ.

Unfortunately, there are  hundreds of viruses that cause the common cold. You’ll never develop immunity to all of them, but the longer you live, the more cold viruses you encounter and the more anti-cold virus antibodies you develop. Scientists theorize that this lifetime exposure to cold viruses may be part of why some older adults seem particularly immune to colds.

Of course, the fact that adults generally practice better hygiene than toddlers do may also explain why adults get about one-third as many colds as kids do.


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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd, III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 2, 2015

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Medical References

  1. Treatment of the Common Cold in Children and Adults. American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0715/p153.html
  2. Epidemiology, Etiology and Pathophysiology. EB Medicine. http://www.ebmedicine.net/topics.php?paction=showTopicSeg&topic_id=124&seg_id=2419
  3. An Important FDA Reminder to Parents: Do Not Give Infants Cough and Cold Products Designed for Older Children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/SpecialFeatures/ucm263948.htm
    OTC Cough and Cold Products: Not for Infants and Children Under Two Years of Age. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048682.htm
    FDA Statement Following CHPA’s Announcement on Nonprescription Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medicines in Children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2008/ucm116964.htm
    Common Cold in Babies. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold-in-babies/basics/definition/con-20033841
    What Is the Difference Between Child Colds and Adult Colds? Dr. Ronal Turner. http://www.monkeysee.com/play/5393-what-is-the-difference-between-child-colds-and-adult-colds
    Colds in Children. National Health Service. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cold-common/Pages/Commoncoldinchildren.aspx
    Why Some People Evade Colds and Others Don’t. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/07/133500558/why-some-people-evade-colds-and-others-dont
    Rhinovirus Infections, HealthChildren.org. https://healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Rhinovirus-Infect...
  4. OTC Cough and Cold Products: Not for Infants and Children Under Two Years of Age. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048682.htm
  5. FDA Statement Following CHPA’s Announcement on Nonprescription Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medicines in Children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2008/ucm116964.htm
  6. Common Cold in Babies. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold-in-babies/basics/definition/con-20033841
  7. What Is the Difference Between Child Colds and Adult Colds? Dr. Ronal Turner. http://www.monkeysee.com/play/5393-what-is-the-difference-between-child-colds-and-adult-colds
  8. Colds in Children. National Health Service. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cold-common/Pages/Commoncoldinchildren.aspx
  9. Why Some People Evade Colds and Others Don’t. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/07/133500558/why-some-people-evade-colds-and-others-dont
  10. Rhinovirus Infections, HealthChildren.org. https://healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Rhinovirus-Infect...

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