Caring for a Child with a Viral Infection
Most infections are caused by germs called viruses and bacteria. While you may be able to keep germs from spreading, you can't always keep your child from getting sick. It is important for parents to know how to keep their children healthy and what to do when they get sick.
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 Chest Congestion
- Chest physical therapy can loosen mucus and may help infants and young children cough it out. Lay your child across your knees, face down; cup your hand; and gently tap your child's back. Or sit your child on your lap, lean her body forward about 30 degrees, cup your hand, and gently tap her back.
- 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 congestion. Be sure to clean the humidifier or vaporizer often, as recommended by the manufacturer.
To Relieve a Cough
- Try half a teaspoon of honey for children aged 2 to 5 years, 1 teaspoon for children aged 6 to 11 years, and 2 teaspoons for children 12 years and older. If honey is given at bedtime, make sure you brush your child's teeth afterward. Remember, it's not safe to give honey to babies younger than 1 year.
- For a child aged 4 years and older, cough drops or lozenges may help soothe the throat. Remember not to give cough drops or lozenges to a child younger than 4 years because he could choke on them. Also do not give your child more cough drops than directed on the package.
To Relieve a Fever
- Give acetaminophen to a baby 6 months or younger. Check with your doctor if your baby is younger than 3 months. 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 Medicines
Cough and Cold Medicine
- The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that over-the-counter cough and cold medi¬cations 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.
- 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. However, in some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine for influenza.
- Last Updated
- Common Childhood Infections (Copyright © 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics, updated 10/2012)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.