What to do if your child has a cold?

  • Symptoms of the common cold in children include a stuffy or runny nose, loss of appetite, and cough.
  • Symptoms usually peak and are worse from the second to third day of illness, but can last up to 10 days.
  • See the doctor if your baby is over two months old and has a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

The common cold can really make a fuss, especially when a child catches it. Every year in the United States,


Catch cold

It infects people more than any other disease – even the flu. Babies and children are more susceptible to infection. Here’s what you need to know if your child catches a cold.

How long should a cold last in children?

Cold symptoms usually last 7 to 10 days in infants and children. Common cold symptoms to watch out for in your child include:

Another way to tell is that you “will notice them getting hazy,” says Juliana Nichols, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

There is no set timeline for cold symptoms in children because they differ from one child to another. But in general, the child develops a fever during the first three days of the illness.

Their symptoms are likely to peak and get worse on the second and third days. After that, all four symptoms tend to improve in a day. But the cough may persist after the tenth day.

Children can sometimes catch up to eight colds a year. The number depends on how often a child is exposed to other children who may be sick, Nichols says.

For example, kids who attend daycare may catch a cold six to eight times a year, while kids who don’t get colds fewer, about two or three times.

That’s why illnesses like cold and flu are often more prevalent in the winter, because children (and adults) spend more time indoors, close to people who might be sick.

How to help a child with a cold

Usually the best course of action is to wait for the cold to go away and to control your symptoms in the meantime. Parents can use:

  • A moisturizer to relieve a stuffy or runny nose.
  • Saline nasal drops can thin the mucus, which must then be removed with a bulb-shaped syringe.
  • To relieve the discomfort associated with a fever, pain relievers containing acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, are safe if your child is between 3 and 6 months old (for children 6 months and older, you can offer ibuprofen).

It is important to note that for children younger than 2 years of age, avoid over-the-counter cough and cold medicines that contain decongestants or antihistamines. Popular brands include Mucinex Children’s Stuffy Nose and Chest Congestion and Dimetapp Children Cold and Allergy.

That’s because it’s unclear what dose is appropriate for children of this age, and overdoses can cause “convulsions, rapid heart rate, and death,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. In 2004-2005, more than 1,500 American children under the age of 2 went to the emergency room for side effects associated with overdoses of cough and cold medicines.

When to take your child to the doctor for a cold

While the common cold usually goes away on its own, a child may need to see a pediatrician if unusual symptoms develop. According to Nichols, parents should seek medical attention if:

  • A baby younger than 2 months old has a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The child is older and has a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cough worsens after the tenth day.
  • The child is vomiting to the point that he is urinating less, which can cause serious nutrient deficiencies.

And if your child doesn’t have these warning signs but you’re still worried, call your pediatrician. You can also learn how to help prevent illness in your child by reviewing our article “How to prevent colds and flu in children in winter.”

Informed takeaway

Children can catch up to eight colds in one year, making it a common illness. Usually, you can let the infection run its course and relieve symptoms with over-the-counter medications such as Tyleno or saline drops.

However, if your child has a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit (or if they are less than two months old and has a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), you should take them to the doctor.

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