A cold, also called an upper respiratory infection, is one of the most common illnesses in children and most young children have several each year. Colds are caused by viruses and the most common symptoms are runny nose and congestion, sneezing, coughing, and sore throat. The cough is usually caused by mucus dripping down the throat. The symptoms of a cold usually last about a week but can be even longer.

There is no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics will not help and may cause unwanted side effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using cough medicines that contain codeine or dextromethorphan as they can have dangerous side effects.

You should seek medical care for your child if they have any of the following:

  • Cough longer than 2-3 weeks
  • Fever for 3 or more days
  • Ear pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Severe pain or headache
  • Lethargy

Common questions


What are the common symptoms of a cold in children?

Common symptoms of a cold in children include a runny nose and congestion, sneezing, coughing, and a sore throat. The cough is often caused by mucus dripping down the throat. Symptoms usually last about a week but can sometimes last longer.

How can I treat my child's cold at home?

Home remedies for colds include using saline nasal drops or sprays to clear a stuffy nose, ensuring your child stays hydrated, using a humidifier to moisten the air, and offering honey (for children over 1 year) to soothe the throat and reduce coughing. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under 4 years old.

When should I seek medical care for my child's cold?

Seek medical care if your child has a cough lasting longer than 2-3 weeks, a fever for more than 3 days, ear pain, breathing problems, severe pain or headache, or lethargy. These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition or complication.

Are antibiotics effective for treating colds in children?

Antibiotics are not effective against colds, which are caused by viruses. Using antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to unwanted side effects and antibiotic resistance.

Can I prevent my child from getting colds?

While it's difficult to completely prevent colds, you can reduce your child's risk by teaching them good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and keeping their immune system strong through a healthy diet and adequate sleep. Vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine, can also help prevent certain respiratory infections.

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