Common cold in children

The Common cold is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects the nose. Colds are most common during the winter and are highly contagious. Young children commonly suffer from colds several times a year. Though stressful, it is rarely dangerous for children, though in some cases it can lead to complications, such as a middle ear infection (otitis).


The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. The most commonly implicated virus is a rhinovirus. The common cold virus is typically transmitted via airborne droplets (aerosols), direct contact with infected nasal secretions, or fomites (contaminated objects). The viruses may survive for prolonged periods in the environment (over 18 hours for rhinoviruses) and can be picked up by people’s hands and subsequently carried to their eyes or nose where infection occurs.


Common cold symptoms for children include:


  • Runny nose
  • cough
  • tiredness
  • fever
  • sneezing
  • light headache
  • sore throat

Prevention and protection

Hand washing is the best defense. Teach your child to do it after every bathroom trip, before every meal, and after playing at school or at home.


It takes 20 seconds of handwashing with warm, soapy water to get rid of germs. Tell your child to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice to know that he’s washed long enough. Using hand sanitizer is also an option to prevent the spread of germs. 


If your child has a cold, make sure you protect others from catching it. If he has symptoms, keep him home from school and avoid contact with other children.


Encourage your child to cover his mouth  when sneezing and to use a tissue when he blows his nose or to cough in his sleeve. Remind your child to wash his hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing his nose.


A cold usually goes away by itself, although it can take up to two weeks for a child to fully recover. Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics do not help. Also, there is no vaccine for the common cold.


Like most viral infections, colds just have to run their course. Getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids — juice and water — can help your child feel better while on the mend.


To help ease cold discomfort, you can:


  • put saline (saltwater) drops in the nostrils to relieve nasal congestion
  • run a cool-mist humidifier to increase air moisture
  • dab petroleum jelly on the skin under the nose to soothe rawness
  • give hard sweets or cough drops to relieve sore throat (only for children older than 6)
  • run a warm bath or use a heating pad to soothe aches and pains
  • run a hot shower to create a steam-filled bathroom where your child can sit to help clear stuffiness


Generally speaking, children should not be using cough medicines. Coughing is the body’s natural way of helping the body get rid of the cold virus. It’s OK to let your child cough, unless he is in distress. 


In case of fever: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen, when used in appropriate doses based on the child’s weight, are generally safe and effective ways to bring down a fever and relieve pain.


Children under 18 with fever should not be treated with medicines containing aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), as this may cause the unusual but potentially life-threatening disease called Reye’s syndrome. Therefore, consult a doctor before treating your child.

When to consult a doctor

Always call the doctor if you think your child might have more than a cold, your child gets worse instead of better, or if your child has any of these symptoms:


  • coughing up a lot of mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • unusual lethargy/tiredness
  • inability to keep food or liquids down or poor fluid intake
  • increasing headache or facial or throat pain
  • severely painful sore throat that interferes with swallowing
  • fever of 39.3°C or higher, or a fever of 38.0°C or higher that lasts for more than a day
  • chest or stomach pain
  • swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
  • earache


Get immediate help at the nearest health center/hospital if your child:


  • is under 12 weeks old and has a long term temperature over 38 degrees
  • has fever above 40 degrees
  • is not drinking enough water and showing signs of dehydration
  • seems to have a stiff neck
  • has difficulty breathing

How APPOTEK can help

APPOTEK can offer a video meeting with a doctor who can help you with your child’s problems and prescribe medicines if needed. If our doctors feel that a physical examination is required to make an assessment, your child will be referred to a physical care provider.


Vadym Diadiun, Doctor of Medicine, M.D.