If your child has a cough, it is most likely to be caused by a cold. If they attend a child care centre, it is a good idea to let the director know.
Centres have guidelines on when and for how long sick children should stay away to minimise the risk of the disease spreading to other children.
Not all coughing is caused by infections. Asthma is the second most common cause of coughing.
If your child coughs through winter, or their coughing is brought on by exercise, or happens only at night, they may have asthma.
You should also see a doctor if your child wheezes, a sign of irritated airways.
If your baby or child has asthma, be extra careful and watchful during bouts of colds or flu and protect them from passive smoking. Children are more likely to get infections of the airways if someone in the family smokes at home.
Young babies with upper respiratory tract infections sniffle a lot and may cough a little. Even if your baby seems to be breathing comfortably, they may have trouble feeding if their noses are blocked. Proper feeding is important to avoid dehydration and loss of weight.
Babies with colds and flu need:
- frequent drinks of water
- cuddles and reassurance
- small, frequent feeds - paediatric (but never adult) nasal drops may help with breathing while your child feeds, but drops should never be used for more than a couple of days without consulting your doctor
- extra sleep.
Seek urgent medical advice if your baby has:
- a cough that persists for a week or two after a cold
- periods of breathlessness or difficulty breathing
- a high fever
- a bad cough
- bluish or very pale skin
- inability or unwillingness to feed
- drowsiness in your baby.
Like babies, young children with infections also need rest, warmth, nourishing food and plenty of fluids.
Seek urgent medical advice about:
- vomiting or a high fever
- a high fever that does not respond to paracetamol
- pain or fever due to infections in the ears, sinuses, tonsils or chest
- noisy breathing or difficulty with breathing
- any worsening of the illness or increased distress.
Treatment and symptom relief
Medicines will not prevent or cure colds or the flu. They are viral infections that are dealt with by your child’s immune system. They have to be let ‘run their course’, which is a week to 10 days.
Generally, you do not need to see the doctor if your child is eating and drinking reasonably well and is not vomiting, does not have a fever and is not coughing a lot.
Babies can be given paracetamol in liquid form to relieve uncomfortable symptoms such as pain. Make sure to read the label for the recommended dose.
You can give older children paracetamol as tablets. Be sure to use them only as recommended and to store them out of the child’s reach.
Do not give aspirin to babies or young children unless your doctor recommends it as aspirin may have serious side-effects.
Cough and cold medicines and over-the-counter products such as nasal sprays should not be given to children except on the advice of a doctor, pharmacist or nurse. Learn more about colds and flu on the healthdirect website.
Things to remember
- Colds and flu should get better in a week to 10 days.
- Watch for breathing problems and other infections if your child has a cold or flu.
- Medication can ease some symptoms, but must be used carefully. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all medicines for children.