Mother claening her son's nose.

Cold & Flu

More than 200 different viruses can cause a cold in children, but the rhinovirus is the most common culprit. The symptoms typically include runny nose and sneezing. A cold is not the same as the flu (influenza). Flu symptoms are more severe and can include a fever and shaking chills, aches and pains, lethargy and headaches.

Child blowing his nose with a tissue.

Common colds in children – and how to manage it

Few illnesses are more common than a cold. It can affect people of all ages, but infants and children generally catch colds more often than adults. However, there are steps you can take to make them feel more comfortable, if you notice cold or flu symptoms. They will typically average 5-10 colds a year, with symptoms lasting around 10 days.39-41

Thankfully, coughs and colds in children are rarely serious and most colds get better on their own without treatment.

What causes colds?

There are many causes and contributing factors such as:

Mother taking care of her baby.

There are over a 100 varieties. The most common is the rhinovirus.40

Direct transmission. 
Cold viruses stay active on the hands of a person with a cold for about three hours. If they touch another person, and the other person then touches their own eyes, nose, or mouth, the cold virus spreads.39

Indirect transmission. 
Some cold viruses can live on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs for up to two to three hours.40,42

Little girl blowing his nose with a tissue.

Inhaling viral particles.

Viruses can be exhaled into the air by the infected person coughing or sneezing, and then inhaled by another person.39

The best way to avoid catching a cold is by frequent hand washing. It’s also a good idea to keep children away from sick people and wipe household surfaces and toys with disinfectants.39,40

Tips to manage colds

When your child is displaying symptoms of a cold, making them feel better is your top priority. Here are four ways that may help:

Child blowing his nose with a tissue.
Mother touching her daughter's foread while taking her temperature with a digital thermometer.
  • Inhale steam from the shower.41
  • Try saline drops (saltwater nose drops) or a nasal spray (followed by bulb suction for infants) to ease breathing43
  • Make sure they drink plenty of fluids and get enough sleep39,43
  • Give them some soup – research has shown it may help the inflammation seen in cold infections and temporarily clear nasal passages.41,43

Cough and cold medicines and certain flu treatment should not be given to children younger than six years old.

Mother taking care of her daughter, who has flu-like symptoms.
Mother taking her son's temperature with a thermometer.

When to call the doctor

If your child experiences any of the following, you should seek advice from your doctor:44,45

  • Refuses to drink water or other fluids
  • Vomits frequently
  • Complains of an intense headache or earache
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Has a persistent cough
  • Coughs up rusty coloured or blood-stained phlegm
  • Has a temperature higher than 38.5°C
  • Shows no improvement in 48 hours
  • Has muscular pain
  • Has a skin rash
  • Has pain in the eye when looking at light

In most cases, with a little tender loving care and plenty of tissues, the common cold in children will leave on its own.

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