The Cough Conundrum – Stay Home or Safe to Go Out?


Let’s face it. If you have been to your child’s school or daycare over the past several weeks, you have undoubtedly heard a contagious chorus of coughs and sniffles. The unfortunately inevitable virus swap reaches its peak during the winter season and on average, a young child will have 6-10 colds per year. I am most commonly asked about the symptoms associated with the common cold and flu, including a runny nose, cough, and fever. When your child is sick, you like so many parents most likely struggle with deciding whether or not to keep them home, or how long to keep them in isolation and when it’s okay to release them back into “The Wild”. While every school or daycare may have its own policy, I like to use the stoplight analogy:

Red Light: Keep your child home, avoid contact with others and consider seeing your pediatrician.
Symptoms may include:
• Fever of 101 degrees or higher.
• Wheezing or shortness of breath during normal activity.
• Cough that disrupts regular activities.
• Constant yellow or green drainage from the nose.
• Ill appearance or excessive fatigue.

Yellow Light: Trust your judgment. May continue regular activities unless your child needs additional rest or is showing early signs of red light symptoms.
Symptoms may include:
• Improving fever. Your child can return to a regular routine once she has been fever free for 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medications.
• Sporadic cough that minimally interferes with activities.
• Congestion may be present, but minimal green or yellow discharge from the nose.

Green Light: While not 100%, your child is okay to return to school.
Symptoms may include:
• Mild, infrequent cough that does not negatively impact daily activities.
• Clear runny nose.
• Active, playful, and rested.

Remember, the most important way to keep children healthy and in school is by reducing the transmission of viral infections. Proper hygiene including the use of disposable tissues and coughing into the elbow should be encouraged. Frequent hand washing cannot be overemphasized. Avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes, as they are the gateway for unwanted viruses. I see over 30 coughing, gagging, fevering children a day and that is what keeps me going. And finally, when in doubt don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician–we are here to help.

About Zak Zarbock, M.D.
Dr. Zarbock is a practicing pediatrician at Families First Pediatrics in South Jordan, Utah and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor of science in Exercise Physiology. Dr. Zarbock received his medical degree from The Ohio State University College of Medicine where he received awards for his outstanding academic achievement and pediatric research. He completed his pediatric internship and residency at the University of Utah and Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Dr. Zarbock is the creator of Zarbee’s and the president Honey Naturals, LLC, a company manufacturing natural products that draw upon the medicinal properties of honey. Dr. Zarbock is featured on a weekly local news segment letting parents know about community illnesses and tips on managing illnesses from home. He is the father of four children, and enjoys the outdoors, skiing, hiking, camping and spending time with his family.



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