Infant colds: What’s normal and what’s not

Learn the causes, symptoms and how parents can help.

By: Sanford Health News .

Sick baby with thermometer
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Dr. Todd Twogood, a pediatrician at the Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck, North Dakota, talks about infant colds and what parents can do to help.

What causes the common cold?

The general cause of a common cold is a virus. A few common viruses are rhinovirus, enterovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). A lot of parents have misconceptions of RSV and believe that if their child gets it they’re going to end up in the hospital, quite sick or even develop asthma. But, that’s not quite true. Since 96 percent of all children develop RSV at least once before they’re 2, it can be considered a common cold as well.

What are the symptoms of a cold in an infant?

Symptoms of a cold in an infant generally start with a low grade fever and nasal congestion. Infants get all plugged up inside and then two to three days later generally start having a lot of post-nasal drip, increasing a cough and causing a runny nose. If your child has a green or yellow runny nose in the first three to four days of a cold, that’s normal and not considered a sinus infection — it’s just that the mucus has been setting in the nose for so long. That generally fades away within seven to 10 days and the fever is usually gone in two to three days.

Is there anything parents can do to prevent a cold?

Avoid close contact with your child. More specifically, no sharing cups, spoons or straws. Your child should also have their own towel when they have a cold. You should avoid close kissing as well. You can maybe kiss them on the forehead, but not too close.

What can a parent do at home to help a child with a cold?

Humidified air is one of the best things you can do. It will help lubricate the nasal sinuses and prevent cough. If your child’s uncomfortable, use of Tylenol and Ibuprofen would be appropriate. Use upright positioning for small infants and children, but only while they’re awake, and flat positioning while they sleep. Nasal saline can also help congestion.

Is there anything that a parent should NOT do?

The first thing a parent shouldn’t do is worry. Most colds last seven to 10 days. As long as your child is comfortable and does not have prolonged fever or respiratory difficulties, hang in there and things will get better. Just provide supportive care to your child. Visit a health care professional if you have further concerns.

When does a child need to see a physician?

During a cold, your baby or infant may need to see a physician or health care professional if their symptoms are prolonged. If they extend past seven to 10 days, you may want to call or bring your child in. If there are symptoms such as irritability, prolonged fever or respiratory difficulty, make sure to see a physician or health care professional.

How long will it take for the child to get better?

With a cold, your child should get better within seven to 10 days. If you have more serious concerns be sure to call or visit your provider. Children with special needs or chronic health care conditions may need to be seen earlier or with special consideration. But, all of our children deserve that special love and attention.