A father taking care of his sick daughter

Cold and 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. It’s worth noting that 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.

Common Colds In Children – And How To Manage It

Few illnesses are more common than the 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 in children. 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.

A girl suffering from a cold and a fever
A sick girl

What causes colds?

There are many causes and contributing factors such as:

  • Viruses. The most common is the rhinovirus – there are over 100 varieties40
  • 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 spreads39
  • Indirect transmission. Some cold viruses can live on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs for up to two to three hours40,42
  • Inhaling viral particles. Viruses can be exhaled into the air by the infected person coughing or sneezing, and then inhaled by another person39

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

a girl suffering from high fever

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:

  • Inhale steam from the shower. Avoid using a bowl of hot water as the steam may burn the lining of the nose and the hot water can be easily spilled41
  • 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 passages41,43


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

A sick child sitting next to a teddy bear

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 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 38.5⁰C
  • Shows no improvement in 48 hours
  • Has muscular pains
  • Has a skin rash
  • Feels 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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