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Common Cold in Children


The common cold is a viral infection of the upper airway passages. It is a type of upper respiratory infection. It can affect the nose, throat, sinuses, and ears. A cold can also affect the tube that connects the middle ear and throat, as well as the windpipe, voice box, and airways.


Many different viruses can cause colds. The infection spreads when viruses are passed to others by sneezing, coughing, or personal contact. Your child may also be infected by handling objects that were touched by someone with a cold.


Cold symptoms usually start 1 to 3 days after contact with a cold virus. Symptoms may include:

  • a scratchy or sore throat
  • sneezing, runny nose, or stuffy nose
  • cough
  • watery eyes
  • ear congestion
  • slight fever of 99 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 to 38 degrees Celsius
  • tiredness
  • headache, and loss of appetite

There are no medicines for curing a cold. You can treat the symptoms with nonprescription medicines such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, nose drops or nose sprays, and cough drops. Carefully follow the directions for taking any of these medicines. Check with your healthcare provider before you give medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen because of the risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome. Do not give cough and cold medicines to children under the age of 4 unless your child's healthcare provider has told you to. Children under 6 years of age should not be given cough drops or hard candies to relieve a sore throat or cough.


Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. Things you can do to relieve your child's symptoms include:

  • Make sure your child gets lost of rest.
  • Make sure your child drinks extra fluids.
  • Use a humidifier to increase air moisture, and
  • Use a suction bulb to relieve nasal congestion.

Most babies do not eat well when they are having trouble breathing. Use a small suction bulb and saline drops to help clear the air passages. Put 1 drop of warm water or saline into one side of the nose. Gently remove the mucus with the bulb about a minute later. Do just one side of the nose at a time. Your healthcare provider can show you how this is done.


To help prevent the spread of a cold to others, teach your child to:

  • Turn away from others and use tissues when he coughs or sneezes. If he doesn't have a tissue, he should cough or sneeze into his upper sleeve, not his hands.
  • Wash his hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing his nose.
  • Wash his hands often and especially before touching food, cups, silverware, or napkins. Sick children should not share food or eating utensils with others, and
  • Not let his nose or mouth touch drinking fountains.

Your child's symptoms should get better after a few days.


Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.


HIA File resp3806.htm Release 13/2010

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