My baby has a cold: What can I do at home and when should my baby be seen by the doctor?

November 6, 2011 Hema Nirmal, MD, FAAP

This is a question that parents typically ask during this time of the year. Common cold or upper respiratory infections are common in children during the first few years of their life. Some children may have about 8-10 colds by the time they are two, and may experience many more if they are in daycare or if they have older siblings attending school.

Children generally show symptoms that differ from that of adults. Usually, parents notice that their child has runny nose, cough, sneezing and nasal stuffiness. The nasal discharge is clear at first, but may become yellowish-green in color. A low grade fever may also be present the first few days. These symptoms usually last for about 10 days and then improve. However, complications sometimes occur, including bronchiolitis, croup, ear infections, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Unfortunately, there are no medications that can cure the common cold. These colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics have no role in their treatment .The best thing that parents can do is make their infant or child as comfortable as possible. If your infant has nasal congestion, you could use saline nasal spray, and if less than 6 months of age bulb suctioning may help relieve nasal stuffiness. This is especially helpful if done before sleeping and feeding. Use of anti-fever medication can relieve the fever. It is important to make sure that your child gets plenty of fluids. A cool mist humidifier in the room may also help. You can also use vaporub to help relieve nasal congestion. It is not recommended to administer any of the over the counter cough and cold medications to your child less than 6 years of age without consulting your pediatrician because of the potential side effects of these medications.

When should your child be seen by the pediatrician?

Your baby should be seen by a physician if he or she is less than 3 months of age, has trouble with breathing, has a fever is persistently high, is extremely fussy, is more sleepy than usual, has symptoms lasting for more than 10 days, and/or is not eating well.

How can you prevent your child from getting these infections?

The best method of preventing transmission is frequent hand washing and avoiding touching of nose and eyes. If your infant is less than 3 months of age, it is best to avoid contact with individuals with a cold. Flu vaccination yearly is recommended for all children over the age of 6 months to ensure protection against the influenza virus.

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