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First Aid: Common Cold

First Aid

Kids can get eight colds a year — or more. The common cold sends more kids to the doctor than any other illness. Most colds are caused by a virus found in the air and on the things we touch. Antibiotics can't treat viruses, but you can help your child feel better.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Cold?

  • stuffy or runny nose (may start out watery, then turn thick yellow or green)
  • itchy or sore throat
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • headache
  • mild fever
  • feeling tired
  • eating less

What to Do

  • Ease discomfort with:
    • acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed if your child is older than 6 months
    • a cool-mist humidifier or steamy bathroom
    • saline (saltwater) drops for a congested nose
    • gentle suction of nasal mucus using a bulb syringe when necessary
  • Offer lots of liquids — breast milk or formula for babies; water and diluted juice for older kids, but no caffeinated beverages.
  • Never give cough or cold medicine to children under 6 years old. Call a doctor first for older kids.
  • Never give aspirin to a child.

Get Medical Care if Your Child Has:

  • cold symptoms that get worse or last more than a week
  • cough and congestion triggered by pollen, dust, pets, etc.
  • a barking cough or a cough that is severe and happens in spasms
  • trouble breathing
  • a high fever and appears ill; or any fever in a baby 3 months old or younger
  • a sore throat that makes it hard to eat and drink
  • a bad headache

Think Prevention!

Remind kids to:

  • avoid anyone who has a cold
  • avoid smokers (secondhand smoke increases kids' risk of getting sick)
  • wash their hands well and often, especially after nose-blowing and playing with other kids
  • sneeze and cough into shirtsleeves or tissues — not hands

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date Reviewed: May 23, 2018

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