A common cold is a viral infection of your baby's nose and throat. Nasal congestion and a runny nose are the main indicators of a cold.
Babies are especially susceptible to the common cold, in part because they're often around other older children. Also, they have yet to develop immunity to many common infections. Within the first year of life, most babies have up to seven colds; they may have 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 indication of the common cold in a baby is 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.
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.
Most colds are simply a nuisance. But it's important to take your baby's signs and symptoms seriously.
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 100 viruses. Rhinoviruses are the most common.
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.
A common cold virus enters your baby's mouth, nose or eyes. Your baby can be infected with a virus by:
A few factors put infants at higher risk of a common cold.
The best defense against the common cold is common sense and frequent hand-washing.
Simple preventive measures can help keep the common cold at bay.
There's no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics don't work against cold viruses. Try to make your baby more comfortable with measures such as suctioning nasal mucus and keeping the air moist.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications generally should be avoided in babies. You can use fever-reducing medications, carefully following dosing directions, if a fever is making your child uncomfortable. Cough and cold medications aren't safe for infants and young children.
OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) might relieve discomfort associated with a fever. 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.
Don't give acetaminophen to children under 3 months of age, and be especially careful when giving acetaminophen to older babies and children because the dosing guidelines can be confusing. Call your doctor if you have questions about the right dosage for your baby.
For treatment of fever or pain, 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).
Don't give these medications to your baby if he or she is dehydrated or vomiting continuously.
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.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly recommends against giving over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines to children younger than age 2. 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 can be dangerous to your baby.
In June 2008, manufacturers removed infant cough and cold medications from the market. They also modified product labels on the remaining OTC cough and cold medicines to warn people not to use them in children under 4 years of age because of safety concerns.
Most often, you can treat an older baby's cold at home.
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 (0.64 to 1.27 centimeters) 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 basic questions to ask the doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions you have.
Your baby's doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
Take steps to make your baby more comfortable. These include moistening the air in your home and using saline drops and a suction bulb to remove mucus from your child's nose.