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A Cold Can Be Serious for Some Kids With Down Syndrome

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This time of year I’m reminded that two years ago my 14-month-old was in the hospital because of a cold. Simply a common virus. The bill was $31,000 and I’m still not over it. She was hospitalized for almost two weeks. Thank goodness we have insurance to cover most of the cost. The cost isn’t the point, but it does show the gravity of the interventions and treatments she needed because she caught a virus.

This isn’t uncommon for some people with Down syndrome. In fact, during the two times Gigi has been hospitalized for respiratory illness, she had roommates with Down syndrome. Gigi is considered quite healthy; there are others with Down syndrome who are much more vulnerable because they already have other medical complexities.

I feel like people roll their eyes sometimes when I start talking about my fear of germs, but I know a lot of other moms, especially those with kids with Down Syndrome, would agree that catching a cold can be a scary thing. Our kids’ immune systems aren’t as strong as others. Their low muscle tone can result in difficulty coughing up mucus from the lungs, therefore it settles resulting in an infection requiring hospitalization. Their small passageways in their nose and ears can also make them more prone to infection.

I know you can’t avoid the common cold, and I do agree that exposure to colds builds up your immunity. I understand I shouldn’t isolate myself or my kids during cold and flu season, however, this is one thing I do because it often (not always, but often) works. As a parent, I have to do what I can to protect the health of my child right now. In the least, a common cold means a number of sleepless nights for us since the smallest post nasal drip causes swelling and difficulty breathing, leading to one of us having to sleep sitting up with Gigi. Unfortunately, sometimes a cold can do dangerous things.

Before I had Gigi, I didn’t think much about my kids getting sick, but now I worry about my older two as well because once one of my girls gets sick, we all get sick. There’s no way to contain the germs in the house. In the wintertime, I usually avoid playdates. Even if you’re not showing symptoms, you could be carrying something. Trust me, I wish I could invite friends over for a playdate and have a cup of tea with a fellow mom. We all need socialization but I just can’t do it, not during cold and flu season. Thank goodness I have friends who understand this.

If you have a little friend with Down syndrome or a friend who may be immune compromised, here’s what you can do to help:

  • Cancel the playdate if you or your child is sick.
  • If you have a playdate or party you are invited to and your child is sick, please don’t put the host on the spot and ask them if they think you should attend. Make the decision to not attend so you don’t infect others.
  • Sick children should not attend school. You don’t want to get the teacher sick, or their classmates. Even if all of the classmates are considered healthy and without immunity issues, you never know what family members they have who may be immune compromised.

Gigi started school a month ago. At the end of a week and a half she got sick, as expected. She then missed a week of school, but handled the cold and avoided the hospital thanks to her being a bit stronger, and thanks to the frequent check-ins with her pediatrician. I just hope that with her now being 3 years old she’ll be able to handle these colds and become even stronger from it. Maybe in a year or so I’ll be more relaxed, but in the meantime, I’ll see you in the spring.

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Originally published: January 24, 2018
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