Colds, coughs and ear infections in children
It's normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year. This is because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity to any of them as they've never had them before. Gradually they build up immunity and get fewer colds.
Most colds get better in five to seven days. Here are some suggestions on how to ease the symptoms in your child:
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids.
- Saline nose drops can help loosen dried snot and relieve a stuffy nose. Ask your pharmacist, GP or health visitor about them.
- If your child has a fever, pain or discomfort, children's paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. Children with asthma may not be able to take ibuprofen, so check with your pharmacist, GP or health visitor first. Always follow the instructions on the packet.
- Encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to stop the cold spreading.
Cough and cold remedies for children
Children under six shouldn't have over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, including decongestants (medicines to clear a blocked nose), unless advised by a GP or pharmacist.
Children's sore throats
Sore throats are often caused by viral illnesses such as colds or flu. Your child's throat may be dry and sore for a day or two before a cold starts. You can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the pain.
Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days. If your child has a sore throat for more than four days, has a high temperature and is generally unwell, or is unable to swallow fluids or saliva, see your GP.
Go to sore throat for more information.
Children often cough when they have a cold because of mucus trickling down the back of the throat. If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing normally and there's no wheezing, a cough isn't usually anything to worry about.
If your child has a bad cough that won't go away, see your GP. If your child also has a high temperature and is breathless, they may have a chest infection. If this is caused by bacteria rather than a virus your GP will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. Antibiotics won't soothe or stop the cough straight away.
If a cough continues for a long time, especially if it's worse at night or is brought on by your child running about, it could be a sign of asthma. Some children with asthma also have a wheeze or breathlessness. If your child has any of these symptoms take them to the GP. If your child seems to be having trouble breathing contact your GP, even if it's the middle of the night.
Although it's upsetting to hear your child cough, coughing helps clear away phlegm from the chest or mucus from the back of the throat. If your child is over the age of one, try a warm drink of lemon and honey.
Find more information on coughs.
A child with croup has a distinctive barking cough and will make a harsh sound, known as stridor, when they breathe in. They may also have a runny nose, sore throat and high temperature.
Croup can usually be diagnosed by a GP and treated at home. However, if your child's symptoms are severe and they are finding it difficult to breathe, take them to the nearest hospital's accident and emergency (A&E) department.
Read more about the symptoms of croup.
Children's ear infections
Ear infections are common in babies and small children. They often follow a cold and sometimes cause a high temperature. A baby or toddler may pull or rub at an ear. Other possible symptoms include fever, irritability, crying, difficulty feeding, restlessness at night and a cough.
If your child has earache, with or without fever, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen at the recommended dose. Try one first and, if it doesn't work, you can try giving the other one.
Don't put any oil, eardrops or cotton buds into your child's ear unless your GP advises you to do so.
Most ear infections are caused by viruses, which can't be treated with antibiotics. They will just get better by themselves, usually within about three days.
After an ear infection your child may have a problem hearing for two to six weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your GP for advice.
Find out more about ear infection (otitis media).
Glue ear in children
Repeated middle ear infections (otitis media) may lead to glue ear (otitis media with effusion), where sticky fluid builds up and can affect your child's hearing. This may lead to unclear speech or behavioural problems.
If you smoke, your child is more likely to develop glue ear and will get better more slowly. Your GP can give you advice on treating glue ear.
See glue ear for further information.
Article provided by NHS Choices
Record managed by Oxfordshire Family Information Service