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
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.
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Lifestyle and home remedies
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:
- Offer plenty of fluids. Liquids are important to avoid dehydration. Formula or breast milk is the best choice. Encourage your baby to take in the usual amount of fluids. Extra fluids aren't necessary. If you're breastfeeding your baby, keep it up. Breast milk offers extra protection from cold-causing germs.
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.
- Try nasal saline drops. Your baby's doctor may recommend saline nasal drops to moisten nasal passages and loosen thick nasal mucus. Look for these OTC drops in your local pharmacy. Apply saline nasal drops, wait for a short period, and then use a suction bulb to draw mucus out of each nostril.
- Moisten the air. Running a cool-water humidifier in your baby's room can ease nasal congestion. Change the water daily and follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning the unit.
Preparing for your appointment
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.
What you can do
Make a list of:
- Symptoms you've noticed in your baby, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Key personal information, such as whether your baby goes to child care or has otherwise been exposed to someone with a common cold. Include how many colds your baby has had, how long they lasted and whether your baby is exposed to secondhand smoke. It might help to make a note on your calendar the day you realize your baby has a cold.
- All medications, vitamins or supplements your baby is taking, including dosages.
- Questions to ask your doctor.
For a common cold, some questions to ask the doctor include:
- What is likely causing my baby's symptoms?
- Are there other possible causes?
- What tests are needed?
- What's the best course of action?
- My baby has other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there restrictions we need to follow?
- Are there over-the-counter medications that aren't safe for my child at this age?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions you have.
What to expect from your doctor
Your baby's doctor is likely to ask you questions, including:
- When did your baby's symptoms begin?
- Have they been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are they?
- What, if anything, seems to improve them?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen them?
- Has the nasal congestion caused your baby to eat or drink less?
- Is your baby having as many wet diapers as usual?
- Has there been a fever? If so, how high?
- Are your child's vaccinations up to date?
- Has your child taken antibiotics recently?
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.