Handling cough, runny nose, and the common cold in children: a common malady


The common cold is an inevitable and recurrent feature in a toddler’s life, and parents may lament that no sooner has one infection settled that another one makes an appearance! Also, it can be hard to know when the symptoms call for a trip to the doctor.

Fret not, here are some tips to help pass those difficult days.

What causes a cough?

The most common causes of a cough in children are infections of the airways or lungs (including the common cold) or hyper-reactive airways.

What causes common cold and what are the symptoms?

These symptoms are usually caused by a viral infection. Lots of viruses can take hold of your child’s nose, mouth, throat, or lungs, and cause cold symptoms.

The symptoms include sneezing, coughing, sniffling and runny nose, sore throat, chest congestion, and occasionally fever.

In children, the common cold may last longer than in adults. Plus, children often get a fever during the first 3 days of a cold.

When should you call the Pediatrician?

Call the pediatrician if your child is younger than 4 months, has difficulty in breathing or is breathing rapidly, refuses to eat or drink anything for a long time, has a recurrent fever above 101 F, or has a cough or stuffy nose that lasts for more than 2 weeks and is not getting any better. Other symptoms that can serve as warning signs are red eyes or yellow goop coming out of his or her eyes, ear pain or a rash on the body.

What can I do to make my child feel better?

If your child is younger than 2 years, you should not give him or her any cold medicines. These medicines are not safe for young children.

Instead, you can have them drink lots of fluids (lukewarm temperature)

In infants, nasal blockage can cause breathing difficulty and cause undue anxiety. Hence, instill nasal drops three-four times a day to clear nasal secretions. You can also use a humidifier or steamer to clear secretions.

Older children can be taught to gargle with saline warm water 3-4 times a day in case of sore throat.

Apart from this, you can give your child (if above 2 years) cough and cold medicines that can help him/her get some relief from her symptoms.

How can I keep my child from getting another cold?

The most important thing you can teach your kid do is to wash their hands often with soap and water, and as parents follow the same dictum. The germs that cause the common cold can live on tables, door handles, and other surfaces. You never know when you might be touching germs.

Avoid visiting crowded areas when your child has a cold as viral throat infections are very contagious. Their home and school area must be open and well ventilated.

Ensure that your child eats a well-balanced meal rich in fruits, vegetables and dairy products to boost his/her immunity.

End-note for Smart-mums

The common cold is as much a part of growing up as is teething!

Your child is slowly building defenses against all the viruses infecting him/her now, so they do not bother him/her later in life. Consider it a kind of indirect vaccination – without the injections!

So, do not curb your child’s urge to frolic in the rain or roll around in the mud. Young children catch infections from crowded confined spaces like malls and theatres. Open spaces with fresh air, in fact help build immunity!

Of course, keep in mind the red flag signs so we never miss a serious infection and we are good to go!


Dr. Shreya Sharma

Dr. Shreya Sharma is a childcare expert and an M. D. in Pediatrics, she is currently a Pediatrician with fellowship in Pediatric Endocrinology, Mumbai.


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