Cold in Children – Causes, Signs & Treatment

A other taking care of her unwell daughter

Kids get common cold about eight times a year roughly and if your child is being called to the nurse’s office and skipping school too often, he/she may have a case of the common cold! Although it’s nothing serious, sometimes a cold may develop into pneumonia if proper care isn’t taken which is why it’s always a good idea to be well-informed rather than overlook or dismiss it as a phase. Here’s everything you should know about a cold in children, including its causes, symptoms and remedies which you can try at home.


What is a Cold?

A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract which is caused due to the rhinovirus entering your child’s protect nostril lining which incites an immune response from the body, thus triggering the cold. Put simply, if your child is coughing, has a runny nose and is sneezing too often – he has a cold.


Causes of a Cold in Children?

The common cold in children is contagious by nature and is caused by various circumstances such as-

  • Exposure to the rhinovirus through water droplets in the air.
  • Being exposed to someone already infected by a cold.
  • Touching contaminated surfaces which spreads cold.

Symptoms of a Cold in Kids

Common symptoms of cold in kids are-

  • Mild or low-grade fever
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Reduced or low appetite
  • Thick yellow or green mucus emerging from the nostrils

Is a Cold Contagious?

Yes. The common cold is contagious and if your child comes in contact with someone who has it, he/she could contract it. Even touching any surfaces that are infected with the rhinovirus can catch a cold. You touch it, you get near it, you come in contact with it, you get it – as simple as that.

How Long does a Cold Last in Children?

A little girl blowing her nose

Cold symptoms begin to appear in kids within 2 or 3 days but generally speaking, the common cold lasts for roughly a week in children and sometimes a bit longer.

How is a Cold Diagnosed in Children?

Your doctor may examine your child’s nose, throat and take a throat culture using a cotton swab for diagnosis of the common cold

How many times a Year can a Child get a Cold?

Children can get a cold approximately 8 times a year. Sometimes it may be less but general statistics indicate that as the average number of cold cases throughout the year.

Complications of a Cold in Kids

The complications of a cold in kids include:

1. Ear infections

Some kids develop a viral ear infection with the common cold. If the cold persists for more than 3 days and your child has a fever of over 38 degrees Celcius, you can be sure it’s an ear infection.

2. Asthma

Children who have common cold experience worsening of their asthma, if it’s already existing due to wheezing and coughing.

3. Sinusitis

Common colds lasting more than 10 days lead to nasal congestions which develop into bacterial sinusitis.

4. Pneumonia

If your child is breathing too fast, has a cough and exhibits cold symptoms beyond the 2-3 day mark, he/she may have pneumonia.

Medical Treatment for a Cold

Colds usually clear up on their own after a while but if you want to give your child medicines, you may consider acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on their age or weight. Never give kids aspirin since its use has been linked to a syndrome known as the ‘Reye Syndrome.’ For cough suppression and post-nasal drips, you may consider using decongestants. Naproxen is suitable for children under 15 years old for treating cough besides ibuprofen.

Are Cold Medicines Safe for Children?

Here’s what you have to know regarding using medications for the treatment of cold in children-

  • The FDA recommends that children below 2 years old should not be given cold medications or OTC (Over-the-Counter) remedies.
  • Most cough medication labels mention the fact whether their products are safe for kids below four years old or two years old.
  • In general, cold medicines are considered unsafe for children below four years old.
  • The American College of Chest Physicians guidelines recommend not to give cold and cough medications for kids below 15 years old. Kids below 15 may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil or Children’s Motrin) or naproxen for dealing with cough symptoms.

Home Remedies for a Cold in Kids

A mother taking care of her unwell daughter

Curing a cold begins at home and here are some cold remedies for kids-

1. Sleep

Want your child to be free of the cold? Let him sleep on it – literally! Sleeping rejuvenates the body and lets it do its thing. His body will be fighting the cold on the inside and the best way to help that cause is by making sure he gets his naps and night-time sleep.

2. Elevate the Pillow

Elevate the pillow or mattress. This will his sinuses to drain naturally and bring some relief. Rolled towels and yoga mats work just as well.

3. Humidifier

A cold-mist humidifier adds moisture to your kid’s room which helps them beat or prevent the cold. Be sure to clean the filters regularly since mould and mildew may build up if left unchecked.

4. Hydration

Make sure your kids drink plenty of water, fresh fruit and vegetable juices and herbal teas to flush out the germs from their system. Hydration is key to treating the common cold.

5. Chicken Soup

Chicken soup is for the souls of those who have a common cold. Your grandma was right, it’s a wonderful home remedy. The soup decongests while the broth hydrates.

6. Gargling

Take 1/4 tsp of salt, mix it in warm water and teach your child some gargling basics. Gargling relieves sore throats and lessens the pain.

7. Steam Baths

Steam baths flush out mucus, helps kids breathe better, and finally, reduces their high body temperature, thus bringing down their fever.

8. Honey

If your child is over 1 years old, you could add a pinch of honey to his cough syrups. It works, trust us, except for kids under 1-year-old who may get botulism.

How to Prevent Your Child from Catching a Cold?

Although there’s no specific vaccine for the common cold, there are different ways you can prevent your child from catching a cold-

1. Practice Proper Hygiene

Wash hands thoroughly before and after every meal. Make this a house rule. Encourage them to use disposable tissues for sneezing and coughing. Tell them to wash their hands with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, an alcohol-based sanitizer will do.

2. Disinfectant

Wash your child’s toys periodically and use a disinfectant to clean kitchen counters and tabletops.

3. No Sharing

Cups and plates shouldn’t be shared across family members. Everybody will get their own utensils for drinking and eating. Label them, if needed and use disposable cups for occasions when a family member is sick.

4. No Contact

Make it a rule of thumb to not get close to those who have a cold, especially where children are concerned.

5. Choose An Appropriate Child Care Center

Where you send your child to for his basic schooling will factor a lot. Select child care centres with good hygiene policies in place and one that allows sick kids to stay back home.

6. Nutrition And Lifestyle

Keep your children physically active, get some exercise, and maintain proper nutrition in your diet. Lack of stress and a healthy lifestyle go a long way in preventing colds and boosting immunity.

When to Call the Paediatrician?

Although colds go away on their own, a visit to the paediatrician is warranted if your child experiences the following symptoms-

  • Fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit last for up to 12 weeks in newborn
  • High fever which lasts beyond 2 to 4 days
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abnormal drowsiness
  • Pain in the ears
  • Wheezing
  • Any other cold symptoms that fail to improve despite remedies and medications
  • Headache and cough

Prevention is always better than cure and the same goes for common colds. If you suspect your child has a cold, then give him plenty of rest, healthy foods and enough time to recuperate. Practice proper hygiene at school and home and take extra precaution when sending your kids outdoors.

If you follow the prevention tips outlined above, you won’t have to worry about the cold and if your child’s cold symptoms are worsening despite the above remedies, it’s best to call or take him to the paediatrician.