Common cold in babies
Common cold in babies
A common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract — your baby's nose and throat. Nasal congestion and a runny nose are the primary signs of common cold in babies.
Babies are especially susceptible to the common cold, in part because they're often around other older children who don't always wash their hands. In fact, within the first year of life, most babies have up to seven colds. Younger babies have immature immune systems, and have had limited time to acquire immunity to common viruses.
Treatment for the common cold in babies involves taking steps to ease their symptoms, such as providing plenty of fluids and keeping the air moist. Very young infants must see a doctor at the first sign of the common cold, because they're at greater risk of complications such as croup or pneumonia.
The first indication of the common cold in a baby is often:
Other signs of a common cold may include:
When to see a doctor
If your baby is younger than 2 to 3 months of age, call the doctor early in the illness. For newborns, a common cold can quickly develop into croup, pneumonia or another serious illness. Even without such complications, a stuffy nose can make it difficult for your baby to nurse or drink from a bottle. This can lead to dehydration. As your baby gets older, your doctor can guide you on when your baby needs to be seen by a doctor and when you can treat his or her cold at home.
Most colds are simply a nuisance. But it's important to take your baby's signs and symptoms seriously. If your baby is age 3 months or older, call the doctor if he or she:
Seek medical help immediately if your baby:
The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by one of more than 100 viruses. The rhinovirus and coronavirus are common culprits, and are highly contagious.
Once your baby has been infected by a virus, he or she generally becomes immune to that specific virus. But because there are so many viruses that cause colds, your baby may have several colds a year and many throughout his or her lifetime.
A common cold virus enters your baby's body through his or her mouth or nose. Your baby may be infected with such a virus by:
A few factors put infants at higher risk of common colds.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your baby's appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your baby's doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For a common cold, some basic questions to ask the doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Treatments and drugs
Unfortunately, there's no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics don't work against cold viruses. The best you can do is take steps at home to try to make your baby more comfortable, such as suctioning mucus from his or her nose and keeping the air moist. Again, call the doctor early in the illness if your baby is younger than age 3 months.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications should generally be avoided in infants. Fever-reducing medications may be safely used — carefully following dosing directions — if fever is making your child uncomfortable. Cough and cold medications are not safe for infants and young children.
Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, others) also is OK, but only if your child is age 6 months or older.
Do not give these medications to your baby if he or she is dehydrated or vomiting continuously. And never give aspirin to someone younger than 18 years of age, because it may trigger a rare but potentially fatal condition called Reye's syndrome.
Cough and cold medications
In June 2008, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association voluntarily modified consumer product labels on OTC cough and cold medicines to state "do not use" in children under 4 years of age, and many companies have stopped manufacturing these products for young children.
FDA experts are studying the safety of cough and cold medicines for children older than age 2. In the meantime, remember that cough and cold medicines won't make a cold go away any sooner — and side effects are still possible. If you give cough or cold medicines to an older child, carefully follow the label directions. Don't give your child two medicines with the same active ingredient, such as an antihistamine, decongestant or pain reliever. Too much of a single ingredient could lead to an accidental overdose.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Most of the time, you can treat an older baby's cold at home. Consider these suggestions:
The common cold typically spreads through infected respiratory droplets coughed or sneezed into the air. The best defense? Common sense and plenty of soap and water.
Simple preventive measures can go a long way toward keeping the common cold at bay.
Last Updated: 2010-10-08
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