If It's 'Just A Cold', You Should Still Keep Your Kid Home

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Jeff Overs/Getty

Both of my kids have asthma, mainly triggered by cold viruses. What that means is that they have extra sensitive lungs, and when they get a common cold virus – the kind that might just cause a sniffle or cough for most people – they often experience severe coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

When things have gotten really bad for my kids, they get chest retractions, where you begin to see their little ribs rapidly rising and falling as they struggle to breathe, the skin on their neck right below the clavicle getting sucked in and out at a rapid pace. They turn pale, sweaty, and their heart seems to be beating right out of their chest.

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Yes, it’s freaking terrifying.

And yes, they are under the care of a pulmonologist and have asthma plans and medicine that we use to control their symptoms. Luckily, as they have gotten older, the frequency of their asthma attacks have lessened, and while we use nebulizers and inhalers on the regular, it’s rarer these days that their symptoms progress into a full blown asthma attack.

Courtesy of Wendy Wisner

And yet … there is still a lot of maintenance to be done to keep their symptoms at bay. One of my sons takes a daily inhaled steroid during cold and flu season so that if he does get asthma symptoms, his symptoms are less intense; my other son takes meds on an as-needed basis.

Just last spring, my younger son landed in the hospital because he was having an asthma attack at home – one that we normally would be able to manage – but his nebulizer broke in the middle of the night and we couldn’t wait till morning to get a new one to manage his symptoms. (Side-note: If you are an asthma parent, make sure you always have two nebulizers on hand. I had to learn this the hard way.)

Even though we can usually (when the nebulizer doesn’t break in the middle of the night!) manage our kids’ symptoms well, there are countless nights each cold and flu season when I sleep with one eye open, listening to my kids breathe (I have them sleep near me if they are coughing a lot or wheezing). There are always a handful of nights each year when I am up with one of my kids at 2 a.m. giving them a nebulizer treatment.

It’s exhausting and stressful and scary. And like so many asthma parents out there – or really any parents of a child with a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable when they catch a virus – cold and flu season always bring my anxiety up a notch.

As soon as one of my sons starts complaining of a sore throat, or someone’s nose begins to run, my gut tightens and my breath shortens. Being an asthma parents has definitely turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac. Because for my sons, any little cold can turn into a full-blown asthma attack.

And even when that doesn’t happen (again, I am forever grateful for modern medicine), most colds mean extra meds, middle-of-the-night nebulizer sessions, missed school, and a whole lotta mama worry and stress. I get exhausted just thinking about the week of stress and sleeplessness that accompanies most common colds.

Courtesy of Wendy Wisner

So, on behalf of asthma parents everywhere, I have a few simple requests. Please wash your hands. If your kid has a cold, please tell me before the playdate. I understand that you can’t keep your kid home from school for every cold, but if your kid is dripping snot everywhere or coughing up a storm, please keep them home from school.

Here’s the thing: While it may seem like “just a cold,” a little sniffle or an annoying cough to you, for kids who have asthma, that “nothing cold” could turn into session of wheezing, chest retractions, shortness of breath, hospitalization … or worse (over 3,000 kids die from asthma each year).

Please practice good hygiene and be courteous and mindful when you are sick. Parents of babies, immunocompromised folks, and elderly folks will thank you too.

And to the other asthma parents out there, I get it. I used to think I was overreacting when I began to panic when my kids brought colds home, but I think it’s only natural that we asthma parents get anxious about these things. It’s downright terrifying to watch your babies struggle to breathe, and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.

If your anxiety about this is feeling out of control, definitely speak to a therapist or your doctor about ways to manage your anxiety. But know that you are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with being extra vigilant with your children during cold and flu season.

And if you have any questions about your kids’ asthma symptoms, make an appointment with your kids’ doctor. Asthma can change as kids get older, and new meds and asthma action plans might be needed. Also keep in mind that different cold viruses cause different symptoms so it’s common for your kids to seem fine after getting colds for a while … and then BOOM, one particular cold virus will do a number on their lungs and cause a major attack (been there, done that).

The good news is that with proper care and a good plan with your doctor, your kids are going to be alright, and you will get through the next few months with grace and health … and probably a few extra gray hairs. Definitely that.

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