Why it's healthy for kids to catch colds - (12/24/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mrs. Gleason came into the pharmacy to buy tissues, cough medicine, and Tylenol® for her son. ”My Jamal is 4-years old,” she said to the pharmacist. “But I think he has had about three dozen colds since he was born. There’s a vaccine for everything else. Why isn’t there a vaccine for the common cold?”

Children can be beautiful. Yet, along with childhood, comes all the problems that go with it. The kid is sick; therefore, a parent has to miss work and lose sleep while keeping his or her sanity. And it’s usually not a one-shot deal as it is with mumps, measles, or chickenpox.  

In particular, toddlers and infants get multiple colds, as many as 8 to 10 each year before age 2 years, says the journal Paediatrics and Child Health. The bugs are more frequent in the autumn and winter months when children are indoors and in closer proximity to each other. Tykes and toddlers have more colds than older children and adults because they have not developed an immunity to the hundreds of cold viruses that fly around the globe. 

Young kids who catch fewer colds may pay the price as they grow. One study did at the University of Arizona revealed that children who went to daycare centers  - a facility replete with sicky hands and open coughing – initially sick more often than children who did not attend daycare. However, they also had stronger immune systems by the time they started school. Children who did not go to daycare became ill more often during the first few years of elementary school. In other words, having early cold gave the daycare kids immune systems with muscle to thwart more germs that came their way. 

Yet, the question remains: Why not a vaccine for the common cold? We now have vaccines for measles, mumps, chickenpox, smallpox, rotavirus, hepatitis A and B, polio, and a slew of other pediatric viral and bacterial maladies. We need to open ourselves up to the rhinoviruses and coronaviruses for our future health. If catching a cold allows the immune system to develop fully and, thus,  perform more powerfully in adulthood when presented with increasingly dangerous risks, could we jeopardize ourselves by trying to prevent them altogether? Have we not seen the same problems with the overuse of antibiotics and the subsequent emergence of antibiotic resistance and superbugs? As parents, are we too preoccupied to be inconvenienced by our child getting sick with a relatively mild infection? Do we want our kids to grow up in a germ-free, sterile environment with immune systems that are ill-equipped to fight off diseases? Is it worth subjecting our youngsters to an increased risk for allergic respiratory disorders, asthma,  and virally-based cancers for the quick-fix of a cold vaccine? Researchers speculate that if we prevent children from catching colds, by blocking natural, herd immunity, and maturing with a robust immune system, the common cold will end up becoming a deadly disease.

No one is saying that suffering through a cold means not getting some relief. Sore, scratchy throats, sneezing, stuffy and runny noses, loss of appetite, and headaches are treatable. The most prominent and life-threatening symptom of a cold is fever, which usually does require medical intervention as it can dehydrate the patient. 

The pharmacist reassured Mrs. Gleason that Jamal would be feeling tops in a few days and to consider this cold as an investment in the growth of his immune system as he gets older. And don’t forget the chicken soup!

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at 



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