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Winter Health Survival Guide

"My little cutie sounds like a barking seal."

If your bambino comes down with cold symptoms and a fever and then becomes hoarse, she may have contracted croup, a virus that settles into the voice box and causes swelling in this narrow part of the airway. The hoarseness may result in an often scary-sounding barking cough. Some children also may make a high-pitched whistling noise called stridor while inhaling, a condition that requires immediate evaluation. Symptoms tend to be more severe at night, says Baltimore.

Although croup is one of those coughs that can sound more dangerous than it actually is (most cases are mild), babies younger than 18 months are at higher risk for complications because their airways are so small to begin with, says Baltimore. If you notice pulling below your baby's ribs when she inhales, that she's leaning forward to breathe, and/or that she's panting, wheezing or turning blue, don't wait -- call 911.

Best Treatments:  Despite a lack of hard evidence, doctors have long advised sitting with the baby in the bathroom for 10 minutes while running a steamy shower. You can also try taking your child outside (if it's not too cold) for a few minutes to breathe in the cool air -- both techniques appear to help reduce inflammation. Babies with more severe cases (the coughing is interfering with eating, drinking and sleeping) may benefit from a short course of steroid treatment. The medicine can buy your child 24 hours of relief, getting her through the worst of what's usually only two days of symptoms, says Baltimore.

"My baby seems to have a stomach bug in addition to cold symptoms."

When fever is accompanied by vomiting and watery diarrhea that may be quite green (the symptoms often occurring in this order) it may be rotavirus, says Baltimore. Abdominal pain is also common. You'll know your little one may have a tummy ache if he draws his legs up to his belly, seems uncomfortable when you press on his stomach and refuses to eat.

The risk of dehydration is one of the biggest worries for babies who get nabbed by this highly contagious bug, which spreads through contaminated fecal matter. About one in 40 will need to be hospitalized for intravenous fluids and other care, according to the CDC.

Best Treatments:  You now have the option of vaccinating your child against rotavirus, but your baby needs to receive the series of three shots before he's 32 weeks old. If your little one missed the window and becomes infected, your main goal is to keep him hydrated, hydrated, hydrated. Some doctors recommend offering Pedialyte or another brand of rehydrating electrolyte solution in addition to formula or breast milk. Electrolyte drinks help replace lost fluids and minerals such as potassium, sodium and magnesium. Try different brands and flavors until you find one your baby likes. If your child won't swallow the electrolyte drink, just continue giving small amounts of formula and breast milk more frequently. If he refuses all liquids, contact your physician. If your baby is older, don't be tempted to give him fruit juice as an alternative -- it will only keep his stool loose. The illness typically lasts three to eight days, although the diarrhea may take longer to resolve.

"My baby seems short of breath."

Unlike typical colds and flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can zero in on a baby's lungs and lower respiratory tract, causing a fever, runny nose, hacking cough, and sometimes wheezing and shortness of breath.

RSV is a major cause of two serious lung conditions in babies under age 1, according to the CDC: bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways; and viral pneumonia. As many as 40 percent of infants and young children have signs of one of these illnesses during their first RSV infection, such as wheezing, shortness of breath or other difficulty breathing (all signs to see the doctor or go to the emergency room, stat).

Best Treatments:  For most cases of mild RSV, treat your child as if he has a bad cold. Steroid medications have long been the mainstay treatment for bronchiolitis, but a recent study of 600 babies with moderate to severe bronchiolitis suggests that the medication is no more effective than a placebo, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. Now doctors treat the condition with oxygen or IV fluids if needed, says Baltimore. Premature babies or those with lung or cardiac problems are most at risk for RSV complications, and they're eligible for a medication that can help ward off infection. The shot is given monthly, from fall to spring, when RSV is most common. The virus can take as long as two weeks to run its course.