Common cold in babies

A common cold is a viral infection of 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. Also, they have yet to develop immunity to many common infections. Within the first year of life, most babies have up to seven colds.

Treatment for the common cold in babies involves easing their symptoms, such as by 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 croup and pneumonia.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

The first indication of the common cold in a baby is often:

  • A congested or runny nose
  • Nasal discharge that may be clear at first but then usually becomes thicker and turns shades of yellow or green

Other signs of a common cold may include:

  • A low-grade fever of about 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble nursing or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion

When to see a doctor

Your baby's immune system will need time to mature. If your baby has a cold with no complications, it should resolve within 10 to 14 days.

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 3 months old or older, call the doctor if he or she:

  • Isn't wetting as many diapers as usual
  • Has a temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Seems to have ear pain or is unusually irritable
  • Has red eyes or develops yellow or greenish eye discharge
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has a persistent cough
  • Has thick, green nasal discharge for several days
  • Has any other signs or symptoms that worry you

Seek medical help immediately if your baby:

  • Refuses to nurse or accept fluids
  • Coughs hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color
  • Coughs up blood-tinged sputum
  • Has difficulty breathing or is bluish around the lips and mouth

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