Caring for a Child With SMA When They Have a Cold

Wendy Henderson avatar

by Wendy Henderson |

Share this article:

Share article via email

According to Cure SMA, there are several areas of care that need to be taken into consideration when looking after a child with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) when they have a cold.

These areas include:

Evaluating mucus buildup and secretion mobilization
When children with SMA have a cold, they often have difficulty clearing excess mucus from their lungs. There are steps you can take to help your child, which should be done every four hours and as often as needed.

The steps are as follows:

  • Airway secretion mobilization: Airway clearance can be performed manually with your hands or palm cups or you can use an electric percussor or a vibrating vest. Each session should be performed for between 10 and 20 minutes.
  • Cough machine: Four sets of five breaths will loosen mucus, which can then be suctioned from the child’s mouth.
  • Postural drainage: Positioning the child so that their head and chest is lower than their buttocks will help excess mucus to drain. They will need to remain in position for around 15 to 30 minutes. You can support the child with cushions or pillows to make them comfortable.
  • Repeat cough machine: Perform another four sets of five breaths, and suctioning the mucus from the child’s mouth.

MORE: Daily impact of SMA types 2 and 3

Cough machine
The cough machine is an extremely useful tool for helping your child release excess mucus from the lungs and dispose of the secretions. You can use the machine as often as you feel is necessary, and certainly when you can hear your child become raspy or when they’re having difficulty expelling mucus on their own.

Breathing support
Your child may need extra breathing support when they have a cold. A BiPAP machine, which is usually only used at nighttime, may be necessary while they’re awake, for naps or if their oxygen levels are low.

Pulse oximeter and oxygen saturation
It’s important to regularly check your child’s blood oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter. If the oxygen saturation is below 94 percent, you should use the cough machine to clear mucus. If it is lower than 92 percent, you will need to place the child on the BiPAP machine, and then proceed with airway clearance. If oxygen saturation drops to below 90 percent, you will need to call the emergency services as your child may need hospital treatment.

MORE: 11 fast facts about SMA

Children with SMA can become dehydrated easily, particularly if they are ill or have been vomiting. Ensure you keep giving your child fluids and if you see any signs of dehydration, contact your healthcare team.

Avoiding colds
While it’s not always possible to keep your child from developing a cold, there are ways to minimize the risks:

  • Ensure anyone who comes into contact with your child has washed their hands
  • Do not allow your child near anyone who is ill
  • Avoid crowded places such as shopping malls
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke near your child
  • Keep your child away from other children during cold and flu season
  • Ensure everyone in the family has an annual flu vaccination

 MORE: “Life and Atrophy”: A documentary about a young boy’s journey with Spinraza

SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.