Cold Treatment

How to Treat a Cold


Colds are caused by viruses. Most children have 8 to 10 colds in their first 2 years of life. Most colds come and go and rarely lead to anything worse. They usually last about a week. Antibiotics do not help colds.

Signs and symptoms

  • Stuffy or runny nose and sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild cough
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Not eating well

Call your child’s doctor if your child

  • Has blue lips or nails
  • Has a fever that lasts for more than 2 to 3 days
  • Has symptoms that get worse after a week
  • Has a hard time drinking or breathing
  • Has ear pain
  • Is more sleepy or cranky than usual

How to keep your child healthy

Use the following tips to help keep your child healthy:

  • Keep hands clean. Everyone should wash their hands several times a day to keep germs from spreading.
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils, drinking cups, toothbrushes, washcloths, or towels with anyone who has a cold or fever.
  • Wash dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water.
  • Don’t smoke around your child. Don’t smoke in the care or around the house.

How to help your child feel better

Your child’s doctor may recommend the following ways to soothe a sick child:

To relieve a stuffy nose

Use saline (saltwater) nose drops to thin nasal discharge. Ask your child’s doctor about which ones to use. Place a few drops of the saline into each nostril followed by gentle bulb suction. This works best for babies younger than 3 months.

During the illness, use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in your child’s room. This helps moisten the air and may help clear your child’s nasal passages. Be sure to clean the humidifier or vaporizer often, as recommended by the manufacturer.

To relieve a fever

Give acetaminophen to a baby 6 months or younger. Give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen to a child older than 6 months. Ask your child’s doctor for the right dosage for your child’s age and size. Do not give aspirin to your child because it has been associated with Reye syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that affects the liver and the brain.

About other medications

Cough and cold medicine: The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold medications not be given to infants and children younger than 2 years because of the risk of life-threatening side effects. Also, several studies show that cold and cough products don’t work in children younger than 6 years and can have potentially serious side effects.

Antibiotics: Your child’s doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection. For viral infections the body needs to fight the virus on its own because antibiotics won’t work.

Note: Products are mentioned for informational purposes only and do not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Source: Common Childhood Infections, Published Online 06/2011, Copyright © 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 4/08.

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