Children Cough and Cold Advice
A cold is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat and sinuses. There are more than 200 different cold viruses.
While adults usually have two to four colds a year, children can catch as many as seven to 10.
Dr Rob Hicks, a GP in London, offers his advice.
Is my child’s cold serious?
Colds aren't usually serious. However, babies, the elderly and anyone whose immune system is compromised can be at risk of developing more serious complications, such as a bacterial chest infection.
What are the differences between adult and child colds?
Children contract colds far more often than adults. Cold symptoms in a child may include a raised temperature (fever).
When should I take my child to the doctor?
Most colds get better on their own without treatment. Seek medical advice if:
- a baby aged less than three months develops a fever higher than 38°C
- cold symptoms last for more than 10 days, particularly if your child is coughing up green, yellow or brown sputum or has a fever – this could be a sign of a bacterial infection that needs treatment with antibiotics
- your child is finding it difficult to breathe. Seek medical help immediately from your surgery or local hospital
- your child complains of pain in the nasal passages after two to four days of home treatment
- your baby or child has, or seems to have, severe earache (babies with earache often rub their ears and seem irritable) as they could have an ear infection that may need antibiotic treatment
- your child complains of throat pain for longer than three or four days, or their throat pain seems unusually severe, as they may have bacterial tonsillitis that needs antibiotic treatment
- your child develops other symptoms such as pain or swelling in the face or in the chest, a headache or a very bad sore throat
- your child seems to be getting worse rather than better
Why won’t my doctor prescribe antibiotics for my child’s cold?
Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Colds, however, are caused by viruses, which don’t respond to antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance where symptoms don’t respond to treatment with antibiotics. The doctor is likely to prescribe antibiotics only if your child has developed a bacterial infection secondary to (on top of) a cold.
For more information and advice about illness in children please see the NHS choices website here
or for 24 hour support on the telephone call NHS direct on: 0845 4647