This viral infection causes a runny nose and nasal congestion in babies. Find out how to ease symptoms and when to see a doctor.
A common cold is a viral infection of your baby's nose and throat. Nasal congestion and a runny nose are the main signs of a cold.
Babies are especially likely to get the common cold, in part because they're often around older children. Also, they have not yet developed immunity to many common infections. Within the first year of life, most babies have six to eight colds. They may have even more if they're in child care centers.
Treatment for the common cold in babies involves easing their symptoms, such as by providing fluids, keeping the air moist and helping them keep their nasal passages open. Very young infants must see a doctor at the first sign of the common cold to make sure croup, pneumonia or other more serious illnesses aren't present.
The first signs of the common cold in a baby are often:
Other signs and symptoms of a common cold in a baby may include:
Your baby's immune system will need time to mature. If your baby has a cold with no complications, it should resolve within 10 to 14 days. Most colds are simply a nuisance. But it's important to take your baby's signs and symptoms seriously. If symptoms don't improve or if they worsen, it's time to talk to your doctor.
If your baby is younger than 3 months of age, call the doctor early in the illness. In newborns, it's especially important to make sure that a more serious illness isn't present, especially if your baby has a fever.
If your baby is 3 months old or older, call the doctor if your baby:
Seek medical help immediately if your baby:
The common cold is an infection of the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract infection) that can be caused by one of more than 200 viruses. Rhinoviruses are the most common.
A cold virus enters your baby's body through his or her mouth, eyes or nose.
Once infected by a virus, your baby generally becomes immune to that virus. But because so many viruses cause colds, your baby may have several colds a year and many throughout his or her lifetime. Also, some viruses don't produce lasting immunity.
Your baby can be infected with a virus by:
A few factors put babies at higher risk of a common cold.
These conditions can occur along with a common cold:
There's no vaccine for the common cold. The best defense against the common cold is commonsense precautions and frequent hand-washing.
Simple preventive measures can help keep the common cold at bay.
If your baby is younger than 3 months of age, call his or her doctor early in the illness. In newborns, it's especially important to make sure that a more serious illness isn't present, especially if your baby has a fever.
In general, you don't need to see the doctor if your older baby has a common cold. If you have questions or if your baby's symptoms worsen or don't go away, it might be time to see the doctor.
Your baby's doctor can generally diagnose a common cold by your baby's signs and symptoms. If your doctor suspects your baby has a bacterial infection or other condition, he or she may order a chest X-ray or other tests to exclude other causes of your baby's symptoms.
There's no cure for the common cold. Most cases of the common cold get better without treatment, usually within a week to 10 days, but a cough may linger for a week or more. Antibiotics don't work against cold viruses.
Try to make your baby more comfortable with measures such as making sure he or she drinks enough fluids, suctioning nasal mucus and keeping the air moist.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications generally should be avoided in babies.
You can use OTC fever-reducing medications if a fever is making your child uncomfortable. However, these medications don't kill the cold virus. Fever is a part of your child's natural response to the virus, so it may help to allow your child to have a low-grade fever.
For treatment of fever or pain in children, consider giving your child infants' or children's over-the-counter fever and pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). These are safer alternatives to aspirin.
For children younger than 3 months old, don't give acetaminophen until your baby has been seen by a doctor. Don't give ibuprofen to a child younger than 6 months old or to children who are vomiting constantly or are dehydrated. Use these medications for the shortest time. If you give your child a pain reliever, follow the dosing guidelines carefully. Call your doctor if you have questions about the right dosage for your baby.
Children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
Cough and cold medications aren't safe for infants and young children. OTC cough and cold medicines don't treat the underlying cause of a child's cold and won't make it go away sooner — and they can be dangerous to your baby. Cough and cold medications have potentially serious side effects, including fatal overdoses in children younger than 2 years old.
Don't use over-the-counter medicines, except for fever reducers and pain relievers, to treat coughs and colds in children younger than 6 years old. Also consider avoiding use of these medicines for children younger than 12 years old.
Most often, you can treat an older baby's cold at home. To make your baby as comfortable as possible, try some of these suggestions:
Suction your baby's nose. Keep your baby's nasal passages clear with a rubber-bulb syringe. Squeeze the bulb syringe to expel the air. Then insert the tip of the bulb about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (about 6 to 12 millimeters) into your baby's nostril, pointing toward the back and side of the nose.
Release the bulb, holding it in place while it suctions the mucus from your baby's nose. Remove the syringe from your baby's nostril and empty the contents onto a tissue by squeezing the bulb rapidly while holding the tip down. Repeat as often as needed for each nostril. Clean the bulb syringe with soap and water.
If you need to see your baby's pediatrician or family doctor, here's some information to help you get ready for your baby's appointment.
Make a list of:
For a common cold, some questions to ask the doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions you have.
Your baby's doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:
Your doctor will ask additional questions based on your responses and your baby's symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time with the doctor.