A viral infection of your baby’s nose and throat is what we refer to as the common cold. The most prominent symptoms of a cold are stuffiness in the nose and runny nose.
Because they spend so much time in close proximity to older children, infants have an increased risk of contracting the common cold. In addition, they have not yet developed immunity to many different types of infections that are common. The majority of infants will get between six and eight colds in their first year of life. If they are enrolled in daycare, they could have even more opportunities.
The treatment for the common cold in infants consists of providing relief for the child’s symptoms, such as by giving them fluids, maintaining a humid environment, and assisting the child in keeping their nasal passages open. A visit to the paediatrician should be made at the first sign of the common cold in very young infants in order to rule out the presence of croup, pneumonia, or any other more serious illnesses.
The first signs of the common cold in a baby are often:
- A congested or runny nose
- Nasal discharge that may be clear at first but might thicken and turn yellow or green
Other signs and symptoms of a common cold in a baby may include:
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble nursing or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion
When to see a doctor
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:
- Isn’t wetting as many diapers as usual
- Has a temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
- Seems to have ear pain or is unusually irritable
- Has red eyes or develops yellow or greenish eye discharge
- Has trouble breathing or wheezing
- Has a persistent cough
- Has thick, green nasal discharge for several days
- Has other signs or symptoms that worry you, such as an unusual or alarming cry or not waking up to eat
Seek medical help immediately if your baby:
- Refuses to nurse or accept fluids
- Coughs hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color
- Coughs up blood-tinged mucus
- Has difficulty breathing or is bluish around the lips
- Has unusually low energy or sleepiness
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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:
- Air. When someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks, he or she might directly spread the virus to your baby.
- Direct contact. Someone with a cold who touches your baby’s hand can spread the cold virus to your baby, who can become infected after touching his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
- Contaminated surfaces. Some viruses live on surfaces for two hours or longer. Your baby may catch a virus by touching a contaminated surface, such as a toy.
A few factors put babies at higher risk of a common cold.
- Immature immune systems. Babies are, by nature, at risk of common colds because they haven’t yet been exposed to or developed resistance to most of the viruses that cause them.
- Exposure to other children. Spending time with other children, who don’t always wash their hands or cover their coughs and sneezes, can increase your baby’s risk of catching a cold. Exposure to anyone with a cold can increase the risk of getting a cold.
- Time of year. Colds are more common from fall to late spring, but your baby can get a cold at any time.
These conditions can occur along with a common cold:
- Acute ear infection (otitis media). This is the most common complication of the common cold. Ear infections occur when bacteria or viruses enter the space behind the eardrum.
- Wheezing. A cold can trigger wheezing, even if your child doesn’t have asthma. If your child does have asthma, a cold can make it worse.
- Acute sinusitis. A common cold that doesn’t resolve may lead to an infection within the sinuses (sinusitis).
- Other infections. A common cold can lead to other infections, including pneumonia, bronchiolitis and croup. Such infections need to be treated by a doctor.
There’s no vaccine for the common cold. The best defense against the common cold is commonsense precautions and frequent hand-washing.
- Keep your baby away from anyone who’s sick. If you have a newborn, don’t allow visits from anyone who’s sick. If possible, avoid public transportation and public gatherings with your newborn.
- Wash your hands before feeding or touching your baby. Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Teach your older children the importance of hand-washing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean your baby’s toys and pacifiers often. Clean frequently touched surfaces. This is especially important if someone in your family or your baby’s playmate has a cold.
- Teach everyone in the household to cough or sneeze into a tissue. Throw away used tissues right away and then wash your hands thoroughly. If you can’t reach a tissue in time, cough or sneeze into your elbow. Then wash your hands.
- Review your child care center’s policies. Look for a child care setting with good hygiene practices and clear policies about keeping sick children at home
How Long Do Colds Last For Babies?
If your child’s cold is mild and there are no complications, it should clear up within ten to fourteen days. The majority of colds are nothing more than an annoyance. However, it is imperative that you take the signs and symptoms that your baby is exhibiting seriously. If your symptoms do not improve or if they get worse, it is time to make an appointment with your primary care physician.
Home Remedies For Cold in Babies
Babies get sick a lot. During their first year, most have as many as seven colds — that’s a lot of runny noses and sleepless nights. How can you help your infant? Over-the-counter cold medicines aren’t recommended for children under 2, but a few all-natural remedies can help ease your little one’s symptoms and make you both feel better.
Give Plenty of Fluids
This thins mucus, and that can help with a stuffy nose. It also keeps them from getting dehydrated. Offer your baby breast milk or formula often. Don’t give them sodas or juices — they’re high in sugar. How can you tell if they are sipping enough? Check that their urine is light in color. If it’s dark, encourage them to drink more.
Suction Out the Snot
Your baby is stuffed up, but they can’t blow their nose yet. A bulb syringe can clear out the mucus. To use it, squeeze the bulb and put about a quarter- to a half-inch of the syringe into one nostril. Let go of the bulb to create a suction. Take out the syringe, and squeeze the bulb to put the mucus into a tissue. Wash the syringe with soap and water after using it. You can also use a nasal aspirator — an electric version.
Use Saline Drops
A nasal rinse can help ease your baby’s congestion because it loosens the thick mucus that’s clogging their nose. Look for over-the-counter saline drops or sprays, or make your own: Stir a half-teaspoon of table salt into a cup of warm water. Lay your little one on their back, and use a dropper to put two or three drops into each nostril. Wipe away any mucus, or use a bulb syringe or nasal aspirator to suction it out.
Serve Chicken Soup
Grandma was right: Chicken soup does help you feel better. Research shows it works in more ways than one. The nutrients in the ingredients, like chicken and veggies, ease the inflammation that causes many cold symptoms. And sipping the warm broth can thin mucus and clear up congestion. If your baby’s new to solids, blend the soup to make a puree or just use the broth.
Run a Humidifier
Moisture in the air can help with coughing and stuffiness. To keep your baby safe, use a cool-mist humidifier. The steam and hot water from other versions can lead to burns. It’s also important to change the water daily, and clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This keeps mold and bacteria from growing inside.
Create a Steam Room
If your baby is stuffed up, try making your own steam room. Run a hot shower with the bathroom door closed, so the room fills with steam. Then sit with your little one for 10 to 15 minutes. Bring books or toys to keep them busy. Breathing in the warm, moist air will help clear the blockages. A good time to do this is right before bed, so they’ll fall asleep easier.
Clear Out the Smoke
Chalk up one more reason secondhand smoke isn’t good for a child: It can make their cold worse by irritating their throat and nose. In fact, kids who breathe in secondhand smoke have a harder time getting over colds. They’re also more likely to have bronchitis or pneumonia. Stay away from places with cigarette smoke, and ask that no one smoke inside your home.
Sleep is key for a healthy immune system. It can help your baby fight off that cold virus. To help them get a good night’s rest, clear out the mucus with saline drops and a bulb syringe before naps and at bedtime. And give them lots of cuddles. Your touch may ease the discomfort and help them feel more relaxed.
Try a Sponge Bath
A lukewarm sponge bath can help soothe a feverish baby and may bring down their temperature by a few degrees. Fill a tub with an inch or two of slightly warm water, and use a sponge or washcloth to wipe them down. Don’t use cold water, ice, or alcohol. If they are chilly, take them out of the bath.
Offer Healthy Foods
The saying “feed a cold, starve a fever” only got it half right. Little bodies need the energy from food to fight off that cold, and certain nutrients can strengthen the immune system. If your baby is eating solid food, give them meals that have protein, vegetables, and healthy fat. If you’re breastfeeding, keep it up. Breast milk protects against the germs that cause colds.
Give an Older Baby a Little Honey
If your child is over a year old, a spoonful of this can calm a nighttime cough. One study found that sick kids coughed less and slept better after a teaspoon and a half of the golden stuff at bedtime. But you shouldn’t give them honey if they aren’t 1 yet. It’s not recommended for younger babies because it may lead to a dangerous illness called botulism in infants.
When to Call Your Doctor
Sometimes a cold leads to more serious conditions. Call your pediatrician if your baby is younger than 3 months and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or higher or is fussy and not drinking. If they are older, call a doctor if their ears hurt or if they have breathing trouble, a cough for longer than a week, or mucus that’s still there after 10-14 days. Also reach out if their fever is above 100.4 F for more than 3 days or goes higher than 104.