Living in Germany Parenting

German Pediatricians and the Common Cold

In the small Latvian village where I grew up people were oftentimes making fun of the old village doctor’s favorite treatment for most common ailments: drinking lots of tea and staying in bed. Myself among those who would smile at his advice, it’s probably a little ironic that I now live in a country where the usual way of dealing with seasonal colds is exactly that: staying at home and keeping hydrated.

While an American or a Brit would take a horse dose of paracetamol or Tylenol and bravely suffer through their daily appointments, a German who shows up for work with a bad cold is likely to be sent home by his boss before someone else in the office catches it. Here in Germany going to your doctor with a case of the common cold will usually result in zero prescription medicines. Instead, you will get written sick for a few days and be told to take it easy and drink lots of tea.

Knowing this, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that German pediatricians take a very similar approach to dealing with colds and light fevers in babies and toddlers.

I vividly remember the first time I brought Birdy to the doctor because of a nasty cold. It had started with a running nose and developed into a pretty bad cough. As every source from my baby book to Google searches agreed that coughs definitely need to be checked out, we made our way to the pediatrician. He gave Birdy a quick exam, concluded that the cough is caused by her running nose, and sent us home with a prescription for nose drops.

Two weeks later the little one was coughing again, this time so bad that it made her throw up. Freaked out and convinced that this time the cough is definitely to blame, I brought her to the doctor again. One more quick exam and we got sent home with a prescription for saline liquid, and instructions on how to give the baby a “nose shower”.

I should probably clarify that the only reason why we got prescriptions for those medicines is that the German healthcare system covers the complete medical costs for young children. In other words, these and other medications are simple over-the-counter stuff that can be bought in every pharmacy, having a prescription simply means that you don’t have to pay for them yourself.

German pediatricians
Photo credit: Alex Proimos via Flickr Creative Commons

Dealing with colds

Long story short, here are my (very subjective) observations about the approach of German pediatricians:

  • it’s normal for young children to have an on-and-off cold that lasts all winter (read: from beginning of September to end of May), their immune system will eventually learn to deal with it by itself,
  • nose drops are the ultimate evil and should be used very sparingly, they’re too addictive,
  • same story (for different reasons) with cough medicine – you won’t get any unless the cough is so bad that the child has serious trouble sleeping,
  • mild fevers shall not be sunk as they’re necessary for the immune system to develop, medicine should be given only when the child shows signs of suffering from the fever (in the case of Birdy usually over 39 C/102,2 F),
  • no antibiotics will be prescribed without doing a blood test first.

While this attitude makes sense to me, it can be very frustrating to keep on going to the doctor only to be sent home after being told that everything is fine. Eventually I bought a book on home remedies to at least have the feeling that I’m doing something to help.

Have you ever experienced cultural differences when dealing with doctors?

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