Good Habits for Respiratory Health

It’s time for pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters… and the sound of coughing and sneezing. Cold and flu season, RSV season, and seasonal allergies all show up about now. How can you help your family maximize respiratory health at this time of year?

What’s causing the coughs and sneezes?

One of the challenges for keeping your family healthy is that colds, allergies, and the flu can all sound alike: coughs, sneezes, and sniffles. The treatments for all these things are different, though. In order to take the right steps, you should try to determine the cause.

Colds and flu are caused by viruses. A cold can make your child feel miserable, and it will probably last for about a week. It’s not likely to come on suddenly or to cause a high fever or pain. Home treatment is usually all you need with a cold.

The flu can make your child feel bad suddenly. Achy muscles and a high fever are more likely to come with the flu than with a cold. Flu can be serious, so you should call your pediatrician if you suspect that your child has the flu.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is another viral illness that is likely to show up with coughing and sneezing. RSV is more likely to lead to dangerous infections like pneumonia or bronchitis. You can’t tell the difference between RSV and another respiratory virus at home, so check with your pediatrician if your child has trouble breathing or the symptoms seem to be worse than an ordinary cold.

As for allergies, they are caused by allergens, not by a virus. Your child might cough and sneeze and sniffle, but usually won’t feel ill and they won’t have a fever. Allergies aren’t contagious, so you don’t have to keep your kids home from school if you’re sure it’s seasonal allergies. On the other hand, allergies can be serious. If your child has trouble breathing, see your pediatrician.

Antibiotics don’t help with a virus or allergy, but they can help with a respiratory infection. If your pediatrician recommends antibiotics, you’re probably dealing with an infection.

Can you avoid an outbreak?

Infectious diseases spread quickly at schools and in families. There are some good habits that can help reduce the coughing and sneezing:

  • Wash hands before meals and after play. Cold germs can live on clothes and toys. It’s natural for kids to get these germs on their hands and then to rub their eyes or noses. If you can help your child get out of the habit of rubbing her eyes and nose, it will cut down on infectious diseases. If not, hand washing is the first line of defense.
  • Avoid contact with people who have a contagious illness. People are often contagious before they know they’re sick, however.

Will vitamins help? Should you make sure your kids don’t go outside with wet hair? There are plenty of popular actions people hope will cut down on infectious illnesses, but the research doesn’t support them. 

Help kids keep their immune systems strong with healthy meals, exercise, and good sleep habits. Your regular healthy habits may help stave off infections. However, experts say that healthy people can catch a cold or flu just as easily, so don’t feel bad if your family comes down with something.

Don’t skip your flu vaccines. Kids 6 months and older can get their flu shots at Northwest Arkansas Pediatrics.  This is the most important thing you can do to avoid flu. Adults need these vaccines, too. 


Rest and plenty of fluids are your best bet for ordinary colds. There is no cure for the common cold. 

Visit your pediatrician for flu, RSV, and allergies. There are treatments that may help with these conditions.