Small children mostly breathe through their nose, which is why getting a cold is tough for them. Colds can also lead to long-term symptoms like an ear infection, asthma or croup. Here is some advice on how to help a baby with a cold and what you should keep an eye on.
During pregnancy, all babies carry the same antibodies as their mother. They stay with them for the first few months of the child's life, protecting them from a lot of illnesses the mother has already been through. But not the common cold.
The risk of your child getting a cold is therefore pretty high. It's usually fine, but it can mean that none of you get as much sleep as normal. Try to always breastfeed your child, even if they're sniffly. It can help to prevent ear, nose and throat infections from developing.
Do you suspect your child has a temperature? Get ideas and advice about temperatures and febrile seizures here and about typical paediatric illnesses here.
If your child seems to have worsened, has trouble eating and drinking and is lethargic, you should always contact a doctor.
Blocked nose and nasal drops
Being really bunged up is particularly tough when you're little. It makes it hard to breathe and eat at the same time.
If their nose is blocked, you can use a few drops of breast milk or saline solution from the pharmacy as nasal drops before you breastfeed.
What to do: Lay your child down on a flat surface and gently hold their head with one hand while you drop the breastmilk/nasal drops into their nostrils. Repeat about every four hours.
Sniffly children don't sleep well
Keep your child's nose clean, and wipe away all their snot, to protect the skin around their nose. You can rub a little zinc ointment or baby oil under their nose if it becomes red, irritated or dry.
A blocked nose also makes it hard to sleep, and mucus that runs back down their throat can give them a cough. Try raising the head of your child's bed up about 15 cm, by placing a couple of thick books under those two bed legs. You can even buy special bed leg risers.
Colds sometimes lead to an ear infection
When they've got a cold, children are generally cranky and unhappy, with a temperature of around 38.5 ºC or higher. You can usually feel small swellings in their throat, under their arms or in their groin. These are lymph nodes that have swollen up due to an infection, and it's all part of the body's immune system.
Sometimes colds and high temperatures are followed by earache. If you suspect your child has a bacterial infection, like an ear infection, you should take them to a doctor.
You can always call the medical advice hotline if you are unsure of whether you need to seek medical assistance or not.
Long-lasting symptoms could indicate an allergy
If your child sneezes, and their eyes and nose appear to be itchy and runny, they could have an allergy. A dust mite allergy is more noticeable in the morning and a pollen allergy during the pollen season.
Talk to your doctor if you think their symptoms are consistent with an allergy.
Cold-induced asthma is common
If your child periodically has a cough, wheezing when breathing out and has trouble breathing, they could have asthma.
The common cold is the leading cause of acute asthma in children. There is a particular type of asthma in non-allergic infants known as infection asthma, or cold-induced asthma. These kind of symptoms usually start during the child's first year, and they grow out of them by the age of two or three in most cases.
Asthma symptoms during a cold affect about one in five children at some point during their infancy. The symptoms are usually mild, but some children experience more severe attacks. It's usually easier for a child to breathe in an upright position, sitting on your knee or in bed, with pillows for support. Breathing in cool air usually feel nice too.
Contract your paediatric clinic or doctor if you suspect your child has asthma.
A barking cough could be croup
A common cold can trigger croup in some children. This is when there's a swelling inside the throat just below the vocal chords. The child gets a hoarse, barking cough that hurts and makes the child restless. The swelling increases when the child lies down, which is why they usually wake up with a cough and breathing difficulties after an hour or two asleep.
RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infections are particularly common during the winter months. They usually appear as a normal cold in adults, but they can cause severe symptoms in babies. RSV is extremely contagious, for example, through sneezing and direct contact. Which is why you should avoid taking your newborn baby into crowded places.
When children catch RSV, they usually get a cough, their mucus is thick and they can loose their appetite and not want to eat or drink. Babies can have difficulty breathing and, in the worst cases, can stop breathing.
RSV infections are generally more difficult and last longer than normal colds, up to a month.
Seek medical assistance straight away if your child
• is lethargic and uninterested in their surroundings
• doesn't have the energy to eat or drink
• is having trouble breathing or stops breathing
• is coughing a lot
• is pale or bluish
Medications for young children
You should always talk to your doctor or paediatric clinic before giving medicine to a young child.
Things to bear in mind:
• Always follow the instructions on how much and how often the medication should be administered.
• Store medications out of your child's reach.
• Never give your child someone else's medication.
You can always call the medical advice hotline - phone no. 1177 - for advice about colds, temperatures or other illnesses.