Common Colds in Children

common colds in children

Common Colds in Children

Few illnesses are more common than the cold.1 Every year, colds cause about 21 million days of missed school for kids and 20 million missed work days for adults in the U.S.2 Despite researchers’ best efforts for over a century there is no cure. Then again, the common cold is really a one-size-fits-all-term for a family of up to 200 different viruses. That explains why children often develop a new cold while they still have symptoms from the previous one, making it seem like they have a month-long cold.

The common cold can affect people of all ages, but infants and children generally catch colds more often than adults3 and their symptoms usually last longer.4 Children typically average 7-10 colds a year,3, 4 with symptoms lasting up to  two weeks in younger children.4

Thankfully, few colds are serious and most colds get better on their own without treatment.

Why so many colds?

There are many causes and contributing factors for colds:

  • Viruses. The most common is the rhinovirus—there are over 100 varieties3
  • Seasonal patterns. Most colds occur during autumn and winter,3 whereas in Australia it’s more common in spring and winter5
  • Direct transmission. Cold viruses stay active on the hands of a person with a cold for about three hours.3 If they touch another person, and the other person then touches their own eyes, nose, or mouth, the cold virus spreads1
  • Indirect transmission. Some cold viruses can live on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs for up to two to three hours3,6
  • Inhaling viral particles. Viruses can be exhaled into the air by the infected person coughing or sneezing, and then inhaled by another person.1

In general the best way to avoid catching a cold is by frequent hand-washing 3 It’s also a good idea to keep children away from sick people, and wipe household surfaces and toys with disinfectants.1

How can adults help when a child gets a cold?

When your child is sick, making them feel better is your top priority. Easing their cough and congestion with doctor or pharmacist-recommended cold medicines is a good place to start and can help them feel more comfortable as they recover.

4 ways to treat your child’s cold:

  1. Plug a de-humidifier into their room to help with congestion 4
  2. Try Saline drops (Saltwater nose drops) or a nasal spray (followed by bulb suction for infants) to ease breathing.7
  3. Make sure they drink plenty of fluids and get enough sleep.1,4
  4. Give them some soup- Research has shown it may help the inflammation seen in cold infections and temporarily clear nasal passages.4,7

Squeeze the air out of the bulb of the syringe to create a vacuum. Then gently insert the rubber tip into one nostril. Slowly release the bulb to suction out mucus. Remove the syringe and squeeze the bulb forcefully to expel the mucus into a tissue. Wipe the syringe and repeat the process for the other nostril.

When to call the doctor

If your child experiences any of the following, you should seek advice from a healthcare professional

  • Symptoms lasting longer than 10 days, especially if the child also has a fever or is producing green, yellow or brown sputum8 (Sputum is a thick fluid produced in the lungs and in the airways leading to the lungs)
  • Difficulty breathing8,9
  • Unusual sleepiness9
  • Fever over 102 degrees Farenheit/39 degrees Celsius lasting more than 3 days9
  • Fever of 103 degrees Farenheit/39.5 degrees Celsius9
  • Symptoms getting worse8
  • A persistent cough9
  • Persistent crying9
  • Evidence of ear pain8,9

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


  1. MedLine Plus: The Common Cold. Accessed August 2010.
  2. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 10. No 200. Current estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, 1996. Published October 1999. Available at:
  3. US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Common cold. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  4. UK NHS Choices. Common cold. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4373.0: National Health Survey: asthma and other respiratory condition, Australia, 1995. Available at:
  6. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal influenza information for schools and healthcare providers. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  7. Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt. Mayo Clinic Publications. Accessed August 2010.
  8. UK NHS Choices. Common cold in children. Available at: Accessed August 2010.
  9. Mayo Clinic. Common cold. Available at: Accessed August 2010.