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Dr. Tracy Milbrandt in one of the pediatric clinics

January 28, 2009

SIU Pediatrician Offers Advice on Kids’ Colds and Flu

When parents see one of their children becoming ill with a cold or flu, they naturally want to make them better as quickly as possible.  But recovery from respiratory illnesses can take time, says Dr. Tracy Milbrandt, Dr. Tracy Milbrandt portrait assistant professor and director of ambulatory pediatrics at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.

“When children have the symptoms from a respiratory illness, parents often have difficulty determining whether it a cold or influenza,” says Milbrandt.  “While some symptoms are similar – a sore scratchy throat, running nose, sneezing, coughing – most often the illness is a viral cold or an upper respiratory infection commonly known as a cold.”  Milbrandt is also on the staff of St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, a joint endeavor of SIU and St. John’s Hospital.

Symptoms of a cold – runny nose, congestion and sneezing – usually last about one week.  With influenza or the flu, the symptoms are more severe and include high fever, headaches, extreme fatigue and body aches as well as a hacking cough.  The fever is often in the 103 to 104 degree range and lasts for four or five days.  The acute symptoms last four or five days.  Both illnesses can have a lingering cough and congestion and may last for two weeks.

The risk of complications with flu is higher than with the common cold, especially in certain patient groups.  Infants under the age of two, the elderly over the age of 65 and children who have chronic health conditions such as heart disease or asthma are less likely to be able to fight off infection. 

“In addition, the risk of secondary complications including ear infections, sinus infections and pneumonia are much higher with influenza than with the common cold,” says Milbrandt.

“There is no specific treatment for the common cold,” explains Milbrandt.  “Over-the- counter cough and cold medications can help relieve symptoms.  But they do not cure the cold or make the symptoms go away faster.  Some of them can even cause side effects.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended that no child under the age of four years receive any over-the-counter cough and cold medications.

“If parents do choose to give their child medications, they should read labels and understand what the active ingredients are because many of them have multiple medications within one formula so a child might easily be overdosed,” adds Milbrandt.  Parents also need to follow dosing directions and use a dispensing cup or measuring device that came with that particular medication. 

Both the common cold and flu are very contagious so children should be kept home from school, says Milbrandt.  Children are probably too fatigued to participate in other activities, especially when they are running fevers.
Some anti-viral medications for treating the flu are approved by the FDA for children who are one year of age and older.  These medications can help reduce the length of illness by a day or two, but they need to be started within the first 48 hours of the start of symptoms to be effective.

Milbrandt recommends the best things to do for a child sick with upper respiratory infection are drinking plenty of fluids, using nasal saline to help flush out nasal passages and getting plenty of good rest.  She also stresses the importance of careful hand washing to help prevent spreading the illness.

Children should be examined by a physician if they seem especially ill with signs of dehydration, not eating and drinking well, a specific ear or throat pain, or the symptoms last longer than expected. 

Milbrandt joined the SIU faculty in 2005.  She completed her pediatrics residency at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF St. Francis Medical Center and University of Illinois College of Medicine and earned her medical degree at UI, both in Peoria (2002, 1999).  She earned her bachelor's degree at Illinois Wesleyan University (1994).  Milbrandt is board certified in pediatrics.

St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield combines the faculty resources of SIU with the pediatric facilities and services of St. John’s Hospital and is accredited by the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions.  Its Web site is


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