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Cold and Flu Center

How to Swim With Toddlers With a Cold and Cough

author image Keren Price
Keren Price began medical writing in 1997. Over the years, she has written for a wide range of clients, including Medtronic, Salix Pharmaceuticals, and General Mills. Prior to her medical writing career, Price was the managing editor of the Journal of Nutrition Education. She earned a Bachelor of Science in biopsychology from Tufts University and a Master's degree in nutrition from Penn State.
How to Swim With Toddlers With a Cold and Cough
A little girl sitting back in a shallow pool. Photo Credit Karen Roach/Hemera/Getty Images

If your toddler loves to swim or play in the water but has a cold and cough, you may wonder if it's still OK to head for the pool. A cold is one of the most frequent illnesses in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most little ones have had 8 to 10 colds by the time they reach age 2. A simple cold, which is often accompanied by a dry cough, typically goes away in about 7 to 10 days. While colds occur more frequently in the fall and winter, they are also common in the summer -- prime time for swimming. Symptoms occurring with your child's cold can help you determine whether swimming is a good idea.

Cold and Cough in Toddlers

The common cold, a type of upper respiratory infection, is the most frequent cause of a short-term cough. Such coughs typically clear up within 14 days, although recovery can sometimes take 3 to 4 weeks. Along with a runny, stuffy nose and cough, toddlers with a cold might experience:
-- Sore throat.
-- Postnasal drip.
-- Headache.
-- Sneezing.
-- Low fever.
-- Pink eye, or conjunctivitis.
-- Earache.
-- Irritability.

You may be tempted to try an over-the-counter medicine to ease your child's symptoms. But there are no medications that have been proved safe and effective for relieving cough and cold symptoms in toddlers. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving any kind of cough and cold medicine to a child younger than age 4 because they can cause serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

To Swim or Not to Swim

It usually takes more than a simple cold to slow down a toddler. A general rule of thumb is that moderate physical activity, such as swimming, is fine if your toddler's symptoms are only in the throat and head -- as is typically the case with the common cold. However, if your child seems a bit tired or the cold is accompanied by a fever, muscle aches or swollen glands, playing at home might be a better option than a trip to the pool. That way, your child can rest or nap as needed without the temptation of wanting to stay in the water. Also keep in mind that with indoor pools, byproducts of the chlorine disinfection process can irritate the airways and trigger coughing or aggravate asthma. Swimming in outdoor pools or playing in water sprinklers avoids this issue.

Avoid Spreading Germs

If your toddler has a cold and cough, it's important to take steps to avoid spreading germs to others.This is especially important during the first 3 days of symptoms when the illness is most contagious. For example, your child should not come into close contact or share water toys with other children while swimming. Keeping noses wiped and coughs covered will also help prevent those around your toddler from getting sick. Finally, a toddler with diarrhea -- which sometimes accompanies a cold in young children -- should not be in a pool with others.

Warnings and Precautions

Because children age 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rate, it's important to always stay within arm's length whenever your toddler is in or near water. While playing in the water can be a great way for you and your toddler to have fun, many toddlers are not developmentally capable of swimming and typically are not ready for swimming lessons. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends consideration of a toddler's health and emotional maturity, as well as any physical limitations before beginning a water program.

A cold is usually a mild illness that goes away without treatment. In some cases, however, coldlike symptoms can signal something potentially more serious. Contact your doctor if your child experiences:
-- Usual drowsiness or irritability.
-- Ear pain.
-- A rash.
-- Fever higher than 102 F.
-- A seizure.
-- Neck stiffness or pain.
-- A runny nose lasting longer than 10 to 14 days.
-- A cough lasting longer than a week.

Seek emergency medical care if your child has difficulty breathing or has blue lips or nails.

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