What to do when baby gets a cold

Watery eyes? Stuffy nose? We've got the symptoms and treatments for your baby's first cold. Sniff!

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Watery eyes
Gently wiping red, watery eyes with a cool cloth and dimming the lights will make your baby more comfortable.

Call your doctor if: eye discharge is thick or yellow.

Stuffy nose
Babies are nose breathers, says Denise Chapple, chief of paediatrics at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, BC, “which makes a runny nose extra hard on them.” Try using a saline nose spray to soften mucus, followed by a rubber suction bulb to clear nasal passages. “You probably can’t keep her nose clear all day, but doing it before a feed or nap may help,” says Chapple.

Call your doctor if: nasal discharge is thick and greenish for longer than 10 days.

Achy ears
Ear pulling means an ear infection, right? Maybe, but the biggest signs are fever and irritability, says Chapple. To give your baby some relief, treat her with acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Check the dosage with your doctor.

Call your doctor if: your child is under six months (she may need an antibiotic), or is still uncomfortable, despite a dose of pain meds.

Hacking cough
Over-the-counter cough medicines are a no-no for kids. “They just don’t work that well and there’s a potential for side effects,” says Chapple. So how do you treat a cough that’s keeping your little one up all night? A cool-mist humidifier soothes both cough and congestion. (Just be sure to disinfect it daily to reduce the risk of bacteria and mould. See Steam clean.)

Call your doctor if: your baby develops a harsh, barking cough, is wheezy or has difficulty breathing.

Feeling feverish
If your baby’s temperature is higher than 38.5°C (101.3°F), acetaminophen or ibuprofen can relieve fever symptoms. Removing extra blankets or clothing can also help lower her temperature — just make sure she doesn’t get too cold.

Call your doctor if: your infant is younger than six months, seems unusually lethargic or fussy, or if the fever lasts longer than 48 hours.

Dry diaper
If routine diaper checks reveal your baby has been dry for several hours, she may be slightly dehydrated. Try an oral rehydration solution, which is available over the counter and contains a mix of water, salts and sugar.

Go to the nearest hospital if: she has fewer than four wet diapers in 24 hours, her lips and mouth are dry, or the soft spot on her head appears sunken.

Decreased appetite
A baby with a cold may not feel much like eating, but continue offering plenty of fluids. If congestion is making it hard to nurse, try feeding her with a syringe, suggests Chapple.

Call your doctor if: your infant steadfastly refuses to eat, or begins vomiting.

Steam clean
Keep your humidifier bacteria-free by:

• using distilled water (it releases fewer particles into the air than tap water)
• emptying leftover water after every use
• cleaning and disinfecting the water reservoir daily — following the manufacturer’s instructions

Bad news
The bad news about your baby’s first cold? It won’t be her last—in fact, she may catch as many as seven colds in her first year until her immune system gets up to speed. The good news? You can help her feel better, symptom by symptom.

Red alert

If your baby is younger than six months and develops a fever, don’t wait — call your doctor.

This article was originally published in 2013. 

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