Springdale Mason Pediatrics

Colds (Age 0-5)


  • The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat
  • Main symptoms are a runny nose and sore throat
  • Family members or close friends have same symptoms
  • Medical names are viral rhinitis, upper respiratory infection, URI

Call or Return If

  • Earache occurs
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • Nasal discharge lasts more than 14 days
  • Cough lasts more than 3 weeks
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Your child becomes worse

About This Topic


  • Runny or stuffy nose. The nasal discharge may be clear, cloudy, yellow or green.
  • A sore throat can be the first sign.
  • Fever can also be present.
  • At times, the child may also have a cough and hoarse voice. Sometimes, watery eyes and swollen lymph nodes in the neck also occur.


  • Colds are caused by many respiratory viruses. Healthy children get about 6 colds a year.
  • Colds are not serious. With a cold, about 5 and 10% of children develop an ear or sinus infection.

Colds: Symptoms of Secondary Bacterial Infections

Using this guide, you can decide if your child develops a complication. Look for these symptoms:

  • Earache or ear discharge
  • Sinus pain not relieved by nasal washes
  • Trouble breathing or rapid breathing
  • Fever lasts over 3 days
  • Fever that goes away for 24 hours and then returns

Prevention of Spread to Others

  • Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often. After coughing or sneezing are important times.

After Care Advice

  • It's normal for healthy children to get at least 6 colds a year. With each new cold, your child's body builds up immunity to that virus.
  • Most parents know when their child has a cold. Sometimes, they have it too or other children in school have it. Most often, you don't need to call or see your child's doctor.
  • There are no drugs to make a cold go away sooner. But, there are good ways to help many of the symptoms. The treatment for each symptom is different.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.
For a Runny Nose With Lots of Discharge: Blow or Suction the Nose
  • The nasal mucus and discharge is washing germs out of the nose and sinuses.
  • Blowing the nose is all that's needed.
  • Teach your child how to blow the nose at age 2 or 3.
  • For younger children, gently suction the nose with a suction bulb.
Nasal Saline To Open a Blocked Nose:
  • Use saline (salt water) nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If you don't have saline, you can use a few drops of bottled water or clean tap water. (If under 1 year old, use bottled water or boiled tap water.)
  • STEP 1: Put 3 drops in each nostril. (If age under 1 year old, do 1 side at a time.)
  • STEP 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril out while closing off the other nostril.
  • STEP 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear.
  • How often: Do nasal saline when your child can't breathe through the nose.
  • Saline nose drops or spray can be bought in any drugstore. No prescription is needed.
  • Saline nose drops can also be made at home. Use 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt. Stir the salt into 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of water. You must use bottled or boiled water for this purpose.
  • Reason for nose drops: Suction or blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus. Also, babies can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open.
  • Other option. Use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in moist air, then blow each nostril.
  • For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
  • Try to get your child to drink lots of fluids.
  • Goal: Keep your child well hydrated.
  • It will thin out the mucus discharge from the nose. Also, it loosens up any phlegm in the lungs.
  • If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier. Reason: Dry air makes nasal mucus thicker.
Medicines for Colds:
  • Cold Medicines. Don't give any non-prescription cold or cough medicines to young children. They are not approved by the FDA under 6 years. Reasons: They are not safe and can cause serious side effects. Also, they are not helpful. They can't remove dried mucus from the nose. Nasal saline works best.
  • Allergy Medicines. They are not helpful, unless your child also has nasal allergies.
  • No Antibiotics. Antibiotics are not helpful for viruses or colds. Antibiotics may be used if your child gets an ear or sinus infection.
  • For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. See a Dose Table. Note: Lower fevers are important for fighting infections.
  • For ALL fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids.
Treatment for Other Symptoms of Colds:
  • Pain. Use acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen for muscle aches or headaches.
  • Sore Throat. For children over 1 year old, can sip warm chicken broth. Some children prefer cold foods such as popsicles or ice cream.
  • Cough. For children over 1 year old, give honey 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml). Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old. Also, do not use cough drops until 6 years. Reason: risk of choking.
What to Expect:
  • Fever can last 2-3 days
  • Nasal drainage can last 7-14 days
  • Cough can last 2-3 weeks
Return to School:
  • Your child can go back to school after the fever is gone.
  • Your child should also feel well enough to join in normal activities.

Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2021 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC
Disclaimer: This health information is for educational purposes only. You the reader assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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