5 Ways to Care for a Child With a Cold

Treating a Child With a Cold Is Different Than Treating an Adult

Caring for a sick child
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When your child has a cold, it can be upsetting. Parents never want to see their little ones with sneezes and sniffles, so you undoubtedly want to do what you can to help relieve cold symptoms.

Cold symptoms in kids can be slightly different than in adults, and require different treatments.

Whether your child has a runny nose, a scratchy throat, a cough, or some combination of all three, here's what you can do to ease their illness.

Relieve a Fever

If your child is suffering from a cold, check their temperature. Children run a fever with a cold more often than adults do. In a child, a fever is considered any temperature at 100.3 or above. If your child is 6 months and up and their fever goes above 102 degrees or lasts for more than three days, your child should be seen by their pediatrician or another healthcare provider. Any child under 3 months old with a temperature over 100.4 degrees F needs to be seen by a healthcare provider. Babies between 3 and 6 months with a temperature over 102.2 degrees F should also be seen by a doctor.

Most often, there is no need to treat a fever, although there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable, like running a lukewarm bath. If you do want to reduce their fever, you can give them a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on the medicine's package recommendations for age and/or weight. Never give a baby or child aspirin, as it can increase their risk for a condition known as Reye's syndrome.

Choose the Right Medication

Any medication you give your child should be specifically formulated for children and should treat only the symptoms your child actually has. If your little one is only suffering from fever and a stuffy nose, there's no need for a multipurpose cold medication that also treats a cough. Check with your doctor to get dosage information for your child's age and weight.

Limit the Spread of Germs

Keep your child home from activities (school, camp, daycare, etc) if they are running a fever. This is because the time during a fever is when they are most contagious and likely to spread the illness to other children. Have them wash their hands regularly as to prevent the spread of germs to others, including yourself and other members of your family. 

Help Them Hydrate

Give your child has plenty of fluids to drink, but not soda or too much juice. Electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte or coconut water are great for replacing lost nutrients when your child is not eating well, but it is very important not to replace more than half of their fluids with these drinks. If your child doesn't feel like eating when they're sick, don't worry about it. Unless you have a baby, it won't hurt them to not to eat for a day or two, as long as they're still drinking and staying hydrated.

If your child is under six months, they should only be drinking breastmilk and/or formula. Offer more milk or formula to help them with hydration. If your child is eating solid foods, it's ok to offer their normal diet along with some additional breastmilk or formula.

Promote Rest

Perhaps most importantly, ensure your child gets plenty of rest. You don't have to restrict activity completely, but give them adequate time for naps and night sleeping, plus added quiet and cuddle time if needed. If you pay close attention to your child's behavior and attitude, you will be able to tell what they need to recover.

When To See the Doctor

Start by looking at your child's breathing. If they seem to be having any difficulty breathing, you need to have them seen by a healthcare provider. Also, if they have a cough that worsens or doesn't go away after about a week, persistent fever, increasing pain, the inability to keep food or fluids down, swollen glands, fatigue or signs of dehydration (decreased urine), they should be seen.

If you find your child's cold symptoms last for more than about 10 days, a visit to a healthcare provider is warranted.

Trips to the doctor's office usually aren't necessary for every sniffle and cough, as most symptoms resolve on their own without any treatment. If you want an expert opinion, it never hurts to call your pediatrician to get some peace of mind and reassurance.

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Article Sources

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  1. KidsHealth from Nemours. Colds. Updated June 2017.

  2. KidsHealth from Nemours. Fevers. Updated September 2018.

  3. Stanford Children's Health, Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. Help for a child with a cold. Updated 2019.

Additional Reading

  • KidsHealth. Colds. The Nemours Foundation. 2017.