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How to Care for Your Child’s Cold

Unfortunately, there's no cure for the common cold.

Antibiotics may be used to fight bacterial infections. But they have no effect on viruses, like those that cause a cold or the flu.

The best you can do is to make your child comfortable.

Make sure your child gets extra rest and drinks plenty of water or other liquids. Your pediatrician may want to see your child or ask you to watch them closely. Be sure to report back if their symptoms do not get better each day or are not all better after one week.

How to clear a stuffy nose & congestion

Nasal spray

Use salt water (saline) nose drops. You can buy these or make your own. Give 1 to 2 drops in each opening of the nose (nostril) or spray 1 to 2 sprays in each nostril. For infants, use a rubber suction bulb to suck out the extra drops or spray.

Tip: When using the nasal suction bulb, remember that before you put the bulb on your baby's nose, first squeeze the bulb part of the syringe. Then, gently stick the rubber tip into one nostril, and then slowly let go of the bulb.

This slight amount of suction will pull the clogged mucus out of the nose and should help your baby breathe and suck at the same time once again. You'll find that this works best when your baby is under 6 months of age.

As your baby gets older, they will fight the bulb, making it difficult to suck out the mucus, but the saline drops will still help.

Humidifiers & vaporizers

Consider putting a humidifier or vaporizer in your child's room. This helps moisten the air and may help clear your child’s nasal passages. Put it near your child but safely out of their reach.

Tip: Be sure to clean the humidifier or vaporizer often, as recommended by the manufacturer. This helps prevent growth of mold and bacteria or buildup of minerals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers more information on the use and care of home humidifiers here.

How to help your child's cough


There's some evidence that honey may help ease coughs in children. However, do not give honey to babies under 12 months old. It is not safe because honey can contain bacteria that causes infant botulism.

If you want to give honey to a child over 1 year of age, you can try:

  • For children ages 1 to 5 years old: half a teaspoon of honey

  • For children ages 6 to 11 years old: 1 teaspoon of honey

  • For children 12 years or older: 2 teaspoons of honey
  • Tip: If honey is given at bedtime, make sure your child's teeth are brushed afterward to avoid tooth decay.

    Consider cough drops or lozenges for children 4 and older. Do not 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 what the instructions on the package say.

    Mentholated ointment or vapor rubs

    For children ages 2 years and older: Rub a thick layer of mentholated rub on top of the skin on the chest and the front of the neck (throat area). The body's warmth helps the medication go into the air slowly over time. The child breathes in this air, which helps to soothe a cough, so they can sleep.

    If you use a mentholated ointment, keep in mind:

    • After using the medicine, put its container away and out of reach of children.

    • Only use mentholated rubs on top of the skin. As with any medication, read and follow the directions closely.

    How to bring down your child's fever

    Acetaminophen or ibuprofen

    If your child has a fever and is very uncomfortable, give them a medication with just one ingredient―either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always call your pediatrician before giving medicine to a child under 2 years of age and call right away if your child is under three months of age and has a fever.

    For children over the age of 2 years, check the label to see how much medicine to give. If you know your child's weight, use that. If you do not know your child's weight, go by age for the dose amount. See Fever and Pain Medicine: How Much to Give Your Child for more information.

    Ibuprofen can be used in children 6 months of age and older; however, it should never be given to children who are having a lot of trouble drinking enough liquids (children who are dehydrated) or who are throwing up a lot.

    Ask your child's doctor for the right medicine and dose in milliliters (mL) for your child's age and size. Always measure each dose using a tool (syringe, dosing cup, or measuring spoon) that is marked in milliliters. See "How to Use Liquid Medicine for Your Child" for more information.

    Do not give your child aspirin, which has been linked with Reye syndrome, a rare but very serious illness that affects the liver and the brain.

    What to know about over-the-counter cough & cold medicines for children

    • Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines should NOT be given to infants and children under 4 years of age because of the risk of dangerous side effects.

    • Several studies show that cold and cough products that are taken by mouth don't work in children younger than 6 years old. A Food & Drug Administration (FDA) panel recently advised that phenylephrine, commonly used in OTC nasal decongestant medicines, works no better to relieve symptoms that a placebo (fake medicine).

    • Many cold medicines already have acetaminophen (Tylenol or generic) in them. If you give one of these medicines along with acetaminophen or (Tylenol or generic), your child will get a double dose.

    If your child is prescribed antibiotics for a secondary bacterial infection

    Antibiotics don't work against viral illnesses and can be harmful if taken when not needed. However, colds can sometimes lead to secondary infections. These include sinus, ear or lung infections that may be caused by bacteria.

    Watch for symtoms of secondary infections such as earache or ear discharge; sinus pain; trouble breathing or rapid breathing; fever that lasts more than 3 days or that goes away for 24 hours and then comes back. If your child develops these symptoms, let you pediatrician know.

    If your child is diagnosed with a secondary bacterial infection and is prescribed antibiotics, it is important to:

    • Make sure your child takes them exactly as the instructions say, even if they feel better. If antibiotic treatment stops too soon, the infection may get worse or spread in the body. Call the doctor if your child is not getting better with treatment.

    • If the antibiotic is a liquid, ask your child's doctor for the right dosage in milliliters (mL) for your child's age and size. Always measure each dose using a tool (syringe, cup, or spoon) that is marked in milliliters.

    More information

    Last Updated
    American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018)
    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.
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