What doctors want you to know about soothing and preventing coughs and colds in babies and children
With babies and children interacting with so many different people everyday, it's no wonder that they come into contact with illnesses such as coughs and colds on a regular basis. In this guide, UK Meds explain how to help your child with a cold & cough at home & when it's the right time to see a doctor.
How common are coughs & colds in babies and toddlers?
Coughs and colds are very common in babies and toddlers (Alder Hey Children's Hospital Trust, 2024), if not more so than adults whose immune systems are not compromised. In fact, on average, primary school children can experience five to eight colds a year (NCT, 2023).
Are coughs & colds in babies & children ever something to worry about?
Generally, coughs and colds aren’t something to worry about unless little ones have concerns like high fevers certainly over 38 in an infant under 3 months or 39 degrees in an infant 3-6months (NHS, 2023), or suggestions that little one is having difficulty breathing even when the mucus (snotty nose) is cleared with saline drops (Pampers, 2022). Infants and toddlers are likely to be fussy and irritable as no one feels comfortable being ill and they have fewer ways of articulating it than we do.
Can coughs and colds in babies & children usually be treated at home?
Coughs and colds can be treated at home with regular anti-fever medication like Calpol (paracetamol) or Motrin (ibuprofen) which will also help with main symptoms. Saline drops or sprays can help with nasal congestion making it easier to breathe and swallow especially in infants. Even using a decongestant oil like “Olbas oil” or eucalyptus oil on clothing, clothes, diffusers and in bathtubs can help with the congestion.
Video: How do I treat my child's cold? (9 - 30 months) | NHS
The NHS have put together a helpful video with simple tips on how to treat your child's common cold which you can watch below:
How long can a cough or cold in babies & children last?
Coughs and colds can last up to 2 weeks in little ones partly due to smaller airways compared to adults and building immune systems (NHS, 2021).
Does the child need to be kept home from nursery if they have a cough or cold?
This is really dependent on the nursery. While it can be a challenge for parents to have the child at home, it is useful for nurseries because it helps to reduce the spread. Little ones are less likely to cough and sneeze into tissues and elbows, they share the same toys and most are very friendly hugging their mates often even when unwell. All of these things increase the chances of spread for a virus that is easily transmissible. GOV.UK (2024) advise that it is fine to send your child to nursery or school if they have a common cold or minor cough if they are otherwise well and do not have a high temperature. But if they have a fever, they should stay at home until the fever has resolved and they feel better.
What can I do to soothe a baby or child suffering from a cold?
Regular anti-fever medication like Calpol (paracetamol) or Motrin (ibuprofen). Saline drops or sprays can help with nasal congestion making it easier to breathe and swallow especially in infants. Even using a decongestant oil like “Olbas oil” or eucalyptus oil on clothing, clothes, diffusers bathtub can help with the congestion. Also cool drinks can help with soothing throats, cool towels in groins and armpits can help with high fevers.
Can certain food/drink help a cold in a baby / child?
Cool food and drinks can help (Kinmonth et al, 1992); nice treats are good motivation. Light meals like yogurts (Jeon et al, 2023), mashed potatoes can be easier on the tummy but provide some nourishment when appetite is reduced (Healthline, 2022). Smaller meals and drinks often are better managed as well.
Is winter the worst time for coughs & colds in babies & children?
Winter feels like the worst time for these types of illnesses because they are most common at that time of year with people staying indoors mostly due to the cold weather and viruses thriving in colder weather and spreading more easily (Bliss, 2023). Also, our immune system is a better fighter in warmer climates (BBC News, 2015). Ventilating spaces can help especially if not keen on getting outside in the cold.
Comment from Dr Alexis Missick:
You should see your GP if a baby under three months has a fever of 38 degrees or above, or 39 degrees in an infant aged three to six months.
Scott is an experienced and professional content writer who works exclusively for UK Meds.