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Cold Symptoms in Children


What are the symptoms of a common cold?

A common cold is caused by a viral infection. The infection usually affects your child's upper respiratory system. Your child may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Chills and a fever that usually lasts 1 to 3 days
  • Sneezing
  • A dry or sore throat
  • A stuffy nose or chest congestion
  • Headache, body aches, or sore muscles
  • A dry cough or a cough that brings up mucus
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Loss of appetite

How is a common cold treated?

Most colds go away without treatment in 1 to 2 weeks. Do not give over-the-counter cough or cold medicines to children under 4 years. These medicines can cause side effects that may harm your child. Your child may need any of the following to help manage his or her symptoms:

  • 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. Acetaminophen is also found in cough and cold medicines. Read the label to make sure you do not give your child a double dose of acetaminophen.
  • 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. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her 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.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Give your child plenty of liquids. Liquids will help thin and loosen mucus so your child can cough it up. Liquids will also keep your child hydrated. Do not give your child liquids with caffeine. Caffeine can increase your child's risk for dehydration. Liquids that help prevent dehydration include water, fruit juice, or broth. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid to give your child each day.
  • Have your child rest for at least 2 days. Rest will help your child heal.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier in your child's room. Cool mist can help thin mucus and make it easier for your child to breathe.
  • Clear mucus from your child's nose. Use a bulb syringe to remove mucus from a baby's nose. Squeeze the bulb and put the tip into one of your baby's nostrils. Gently close the other nostril with your finger. Slowly release the bulb to suck up the mucus. Empty the bulb syringe onto a tissue. Repeat the steps if needed. Do the same thing in the other nostril. Make sure your baby's nose is clear before he or she feeds or sleeps. Your child's healthcare provider may recommend you put saline drops into your baby or child's nose if the mucus is very thick.
    Proper Use of Bulb Syringe
  • Soothe your child's throat. If your child is 8 years or older, have him or her gargle with salt water. Make salt water by adding ¼ teaspoon salt to 1 cup warm water. You can give honey to children older than 1 year. Give ½ teaspoon of honey to children 1 to 5 years. Give 1 teaspoon of honey to children 6 to 11 years. Give 2 teaspoons of honey to children 12 or older.
  • Apply petroleum-based jelly around the outside of your child's nostrils. This can decrease irritation from blowing his or her nose.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke near your child. Do not let your older child smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make your child's symptoms worse. They can also cause infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Ask your child's healthcare provider for information if you or your child currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you or your child use these products.

How can I help prevent the spread of germs?

Keep your child away from other people during the first 3 to 5 days of his or her illness. The virus is most contagious during this time. Wash your child's hands often. Tell your child not to share items such as drinks, food, or toys. Your child should cover his nose and mouth when he coughs or sneezes. Show your child how to cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow instead of the hands.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's temperature reaches 105°F (40.6°C).
  • Your child has trouble breathing or is breathing faster than usual.
  • Your child's lips or nails turn blue.
  • Your child's nostrils flare when he or she takes a breath.
  • The skin above or below your child's ribs is sucked in with each breath.
  • Your child's heart is beating much faster than usual.
  • You see pinpoint or larger reddish-purple dots on your child's skin.
  • Your child stops urinating or urinates less than usual.
  • Your baby's soft spot on his or her head is bulging outward or sunken inward.
  • Your child has a severe headache or stiff neck.
  • Your child has chest or stomach pain.
  • Your baby is too weak to eat.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's rectal, ear, or forehead temperature is higher than 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Your child's oral (mouth) or pacifier temperature is higher than 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Your child's armpit temperature is higher than 99°F (37.2°C).
  • Your child is younger than 2 years and has a fever for more than 24 hours.
  • Your child is 2 years or older and has a fever for more than 72 hours.
  • Your child has had thick nasal drainage for more than 2 days.
  • Your child has ear pain.
  • Your child has white spots on his or her tonsils.
  • Your child coughs up a lot of thick, yellow, or green mucus.
  • Your child is unable to eat, has nausea, or is vomiting.
  • Your child has increased tiredness and weakness.
  • Your child's symptoms do not improve or get worse within 3 days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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