Baby's Colds

Mother wiping baby’s nose

Your precious loved one coughs, sneezes and has a runny nose. Unfortunately, with these symptoms, your baby may have a cold.

What Is the Common Cold?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the common cold is caused by rhinoviruses and is the most widespread illness in the United States. UptoDate, a clinical decision tool, notes that infants and young children are affected by these viral illnesses more often, and experience symptoms for longer periods when compared to adults.

Baby Cold Symptoms

Symptoms of a cold usually develop one to two days after being exposed. Wong's Essential of Pediatric Nursing states that the first sign of a cold is typically nasal congestion or clear, yellow or green-colored nasal discharge. Cold symptoms are generally worse during the first 10 days and it is not unusual for babies to continue to have congestion, runny nose or a cough beyond 10 days. Symptoms are often more severe in infants and young children when compared to adults (p. 759).

The AAP notes other cold symptoms may include:

  • Fever (temperature higher than 100.4°F or 38°C) is common during the first three days of the illness.
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Irritability
  • Decreased Appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping.

Antiviral therapy is not available for the viruses that cause the common cold

Is It a Cold an Allergy or Something Else?

Baby girl

It might be hard to determine if your baby is experiencing a cold, the flu or something else since the signs and symptoms are so similar. Cold symptoms are generally milder than those of the flu, and most of the time, they clear up on without antibiotics or other interventions. Normally, colds do not progress to serious illness in children and a cold rarely has a fever above 101 degrees.

Flu Symptoms

WebMD notes that the flu may start out as a harmless viral infection but your baby may suddenly display have a lack of energy and have a sudden onset of a fever and chills.

Other symptoms of the may include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Flushed face
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

The flu can quickly progress to pneumonia or even death, particularly in children. Most symptoms will improve two to five days after disease onset but don't be surprised if child is not back to their playful and happy self for a week or more.

Allergy Symptoms

If your baby suffers from allergies, he may experience itchy eyes or nose, which is generally not displayed with a cold, but is a hallmark characteristic of an allergy problem. Allergy symptoms are similar to cold symptoms and may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Sneezing
  • Throat clearing
  • Nose rubbing
  • Sniffling
  • Snorting
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes

If you are at all concerned about your child's symptoms, see your pediatrician, so she can assess your child's condition make recommendations on how to treat the condition.

Supportive Therapies for Your Baby's Cold

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration determined that it was unsafe to treat children, under the age of 4, with over-the-counter cough and cold medicines because of the serious side effects. Therefore, it not recommended that you use any cold products. Instead, you can provide a number of supportive therapies to ease discomfort:

  • Runny nose: If your baby has just suction or blow it. Antihistamines (e.g. loratadine or cetirizine) do not help a cold, but they are useful and help if a runny nose is caused by nasal allergies.
  • Stuffy nose: Use saline drops or nose spray to loosen secretions. Follow up by carefully suctioning your child's nose with a bulb syringe to remove drainage. The AAP recommends using nose drops before a bottle or breast-feeding your infant to help them breathe while eating.
  • Sticky, stubborn mucus: Remove using a wet cotton swab.
  • Coughing: To help ease your baby's cough try giving him some clear fluids such as water or apple juice. UptoDate indicates giving warm fluid such as warm water may have a soothing effect on the nose and sinus cavity thus, increasing the flow mucus and loosening secretions making them easier to remove. Fluids will also help to prevent dehydration. For babies 3 months to 1 year of age, the AAP suggests providing clear fluids if your baby is coughing. Honey should not be given. If your child is younger than 3 months old, you should visit her health care provider for recommendations. Honey can be used to thin the secretions and improve cough symptoms in children 1 year and older.
  • Humidity: Using a humidifier moistens the air and keeps your infant's nasal mucus from drying up. It also helps lubricate your young one's airway. If you do not have a humidifier, try running a warm shower so the steam will help to humidify the air.
  • Fever: It is best to only treat a fever if it is interfering with your baby's daily activities or causing him discomfort. This usually doesn't happen until his temperature reaches 102F or higher. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to treat pain or fever. For babies 3 months or younger, contact your health care provider immediately for a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher because they are at greater risk for more serious complications.

You should treat cold symptoms only if they are causing your infant discomfort, interrupt sleep or are interfering with her everyday function.

When to Seek Help

Most colds usually resolve without antibiotic treatment. You should call your pediatrician for help should your child exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • If your child refuses to drink anything for a long period
  • Change in behavior including irritability or lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing or breathing rapidly
  • Coughs hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color

Less serious symptoms you should speak to your pediatrician about include:

  • Fever greater than 101F that lasts more than three days
  • Nasal congestion that does not get better, or worsens over a 14-day period
  • Red eyes or yellow discharge coming from the eyes
  • Signs or symptoms of an ear infection (pain, fussiness, ear pulling)

Cold Prevention

The best way to keep your baby healthy is to wash your hands often with soap and water and encourage others in your household to do the same. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also help to stop the spread of the cold virus.

Improved Health

Having a cold can be an unpleasant experience for you and your baby. By implementing simple preventives, you can keep your baby happy and healthy.

Baby's Colds