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Caring for Your Child’s Cold or Flu

Unfortunately, there's no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics may be used to fight bacterial infections, but they have no effect on viruses. 

The best you can do is to make your child comfortable. Make sure your child gets extra rest and drinks water or other liquids.

Your pediatrician may want to see your child or ask you to watch him or her closely and report back if things do not getting better each day or are not all better after one week.  

Ways to help your child's stuffy nose feel better:

Nose drops or spray 

  • Use salt water (saline) nose drops (1 to 2 drops in each opening of the nose (nostril)) or spray (1 to 2 sprays in each opening of the nose (nostril)). For infants, use a rubber suction bulb to suck out the extra drops or spray. When using the suction bulb, remember that before you put the bulb on the nose, you should first squeeze the bulb part of the syringe first. 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 her 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, he or she will fight the bulb, making it difficult to suck out the mucus, but the saline drops will still help.


  • Put a cool-mist humidifier (also called a vaporizer) in your child's room to help the liquid that is making her nose stuffy thinner, so it is easier for your child to breathe. Put it close to your child (but safely out of your child's reach) because the humidifier makes the area closest to it the moistest. Be sure to carefully clean and dry the humidifier each day to stop bacteria or mold from growing; bacteria and mold can make your child sick. Hot-water vaporizers should not be used, because the hot water can burn your child.

What to do to for your child's cough: 


  • Do not give honey to babies under one year—it is not safe. 

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

  • For children ages 6 to 11: Try one teaspoon of honey.

  • For children 12 or older: Try two teaspoons of honey.

  • If honey is given at bedtime, make sure your child's teeth are brushed afterward.

Cough drops or lozenges

  • 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 rubs 

  • For children ages 2 years and older: Rub a thick layer 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 the child can sleep.

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

  • Only use mentholated rubs on top of the skin.

To help treat your child's fever: 

Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen

  • If your child has a fever and is very uncomfortable, give her 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.

  • 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.

  • Ask the 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. Watch the video The Healthy Children Show: Giving Liquid Medicine Safely for more information.

Prevention & Treatment:

Flu vaccine

  • Children 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine each year. Children who are older than 6 months but younger than 2 years should get a flu shot.

  • Children younger than 6 months are too young to get a flu vaccines. In order to protect them, make sure that the people around them get a flu vaccine. 

Over-the-counter cough & cold medicines:

  • 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 and can have potentially serious side effects.

  • 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 antibiotics are prescribed:

  • Make sure children take 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.

Additional 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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