5 Ways to Care for a Child With a Cold

Caring for a sick child
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Nothing is worse than seeing a small child sneezing, coughing, and trying to breathe with a stuffed up nose. Even if it's clear all they have is a common cold, as a parent or caregiver you'll want to do all you can to help them feel better and ensure they get better as quickly as possible.

Relieve a Fever

Children are more likely to run a fever with a cold than adults are, which means having a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. It usually isn't necessary to treat a fever: In fact, a slight elevation in temperature actually is a sign the immune system is working to fight the virus.

Still, a fever can make a little one feel pretty rotten. A lukewarm bath might help to bring down a child's temperature. In some cases, a doctor might advise giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat a fever. In this case, make sure to give the appropriate dose for the child's age and weight.

Warning

Never give a baby or child aspirin, as it can put them at risk for a serious condition known as Reye's syndrome.

Under certain circumstances, a child who's running a fever for any reason should likely be seen by a doctor when:

  • The child has a fever that lasts for more than three days.
  • The child is under 3 months and has a temperature over 100.4 degrees.

Choose the Right Medication

If you feel the need to give a child an over-the-counter (OTC) cold medication, give them a product formulated for children and carefully read the label to make sure you get the right dose.

Equally important, choose a medication that treats only the symptoms the child is dealing with. For example, there's no need to give a multi-symptom product that includes a cough suppressant if the child only has a stuffy nose but isn't coughing.

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.

Help them wash their hands frequently, especially after sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands frequently as well, and encourage other family members to do the same.

Teach a child old enough to understand to sneeze or cough into the inside of their elbow rather than into their hands. This will block cold particles from spewing into the air and keep germs off their hands.

Pump Up the Fluids

Hydration is vital to recovering from a cold. The first priority is always water, so limit fruit juices and skip soda.

Electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte or coconut water can replace lost nutrients when a child has diarrhea or is not eating well, but do not replace more than half of fluids with these drinks. If a child doesn't feel like eating when they're sick, don't worry about it.

However, babies under 6 months should not skip meals and should drink only breastmilk and/or formula; water will not provide the nutrients necessary for growth and development. Offer more milk or formula than usual to counter dehydration. It's also OK to give a baby who's eating solid foods extra breastmilk or formula.

Get Plenty of Rest

Sleep and rest are essential to a speedy recovery from a cold. Make sure your child gets plenty of both. You don't have to restrict activity completely, but schedule in extra time for naps and night sleeping, plus added quiet and cuddle time if needed.

When To See the Doctor

Garden-variety viral infections usually improve throughout a week to 10 days. If a child isn't mostly back to normal by then, call your pediatrician or your family doctor.

Also contact your child's doctor at any point during the course of a cold if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing
  • Is running a fever for more than three days
  • Has Increasing pain
  • Is unable to keep food or fluids down
  • Is especially tired and lethargic
  • Is not urinating as much as usual, which is a sign of dehydration

Perhaps most important for dealing with a child's cold: Trust your parental instincts. You will be able to tell if your child seems sicker than they should or is having symptoms that suggest there's something more than a common cold going on. You know your child better than anyone, even the pediatrician, and you will not be faulted for taking precautions if your intuition tells you to.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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.