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Colds in Babies

What are colds?

Colds are an infection of the nose and throat caused by a virus. They are a type of upper respiratory infection (URI). In addition to the nose and throat, colds can affect your child’s sinuses and ears. A cold can also affect the tube that connects the middle ear and throat, as well as the windpipe, voice box, and airways.

In a young baby, the air passages through the nose and between the ear and throat are small. Mucus and congestion of these small passages during a cold can cause trouble breathing. Most babies also don’t eat well when it’s hard for them to breathe.

What is the cause?

Many different viruses can cause colds. The infection spreads when viruses are passed to others by sneezing, coughing, or personal contact. Your baby may have caught the virus from another person or from touching something with the virus on it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose or mucus blocking the air passages in the nose
  • Congestion
  • Cough and hoarseness
  • Mild fever
  • Poor feeding

Symptoms usually start 1 to 3 days after exposure to the virus and can last 1 to 2 weeks.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. A sample of fluid from the nose may be tested.

How is it treated?

Antibiotics can kill bacteria, but not viruses. Colds are caused by a virus, so antibiotic do not help.

You can do nasal rinses to help clear your baby’s air passages and help your child breathe.

  1. Put 1 or 2 drops of warm water or saline solution into each nostril, one nostril at a time.
  2. Gently remove the mucus with a bulb syringe about a minute later.

Your healthcare provider can show you how this is done.

You can buy saline solution or make your own by mixing 1/2 teaspoon salt with 1 cup of water.

How can I take care of my child?

In addition to nasal saline rinses, a humidifier in your child's room may help. Be sure to clean the humidifier every 2 to 3 days.

Do not give a child under age 4 any cough and cold medicines unless specifically instructed to do so by your healthcare provider. Also never give honey to a baby to treat coughing. Honey may cause a serious disease called botulism in children less than 1 year old.

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • What activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent colds?

  • The viruses that cause colds are spread from person to person, so try to avoid exposing your baby to people who have cold symptoms. Avoid crowded places like shopping malls or supermarkets, especially during the fall and winter months when many people have colds.
  • Keeping everybody’s hands clean can also help slow the spread of viruses. Ask people who touch your baby to wash their hands first.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-09-19
Last reviewed: 2013-09-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©2013 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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