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Cold Symptoms In Children


A cold is an infection caused by a virus. The infection causes your child's upper respiratory system to become inflamed. Common symptoms of a cold include sneezing, dry or sore throat, a stuffy nose, headache, watery eyes, and a cough. Your child's cough may be dry, or he may cough up mucus. He may also have muscle aches, joint pain, and tiredness. Rarely, your child may have a fever. Most colds go away without treatment.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child has increased tiredness and weakness.
  • Your child is unable to eat.
  • Your child's heart is beating much faster than usual for him.
  • You see white spots in the back of your child's throat and his neck is swollen and sore to the touch.
  • You see pinpoint or larger reddish-purple dots on your child's skin.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a rectal, ear, or forehead temperature higher than 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Your child has an oral or pacifier temperature higher than 100°F (37.8°C).
  • Your child has an armpit temperature higher than 99°F (37.2°C).
  • Your child has new or worsening shortness of breath.
  • Your child has had thick nasal drainage for more than 2 days.
  • Your child's symptoms do not improve or get worse within 5 days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Symptom relief:

The following may help relieve your child's cold symptoms, such as a dry throat and congestion:

  • Have your child gargle with warm salt water as directed.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to ease your child's breathing.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to thin the mucus in your child's nose. Use a bulb syringe to suction mucus out of your baby's or child's nose.
    Proper Use of Bulb Syringe
  • Rest for at least 2 days and then as needed to decrease tiredness and weakness.
  • Apply petroleum-based jelly around your child's nostrils to decrease irritation from blowing his nose.


Your child may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Drink liquids:

Liquids will help thin and loosen thick mucus so your child can cough it up. Liquids will also keep him hydrated. Ask your child's healthcare provider which liquids are best for him and how much to drink each day.

Prevent the spread of germs:

Your child can spread his cold germs to others for at least 3 days after his symptoms start. Wash your child's hands often. He should not share items, such as eating utensils. Your child should cover his nose and mouth when he coughs or sneezes. Have him use the crook of his elbow instead of his hands. All used tissues should be thrown in the garbage.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.