Managing your baby’s cold and flu symptoms

Few illnesses are more common than a cold, and babies and younger children generally catch them more often than adultsi. Flu symptoms, however, can include a sudden onset of fever, aches and pain, lethargy, headaches and lung congestion.vii Learn how to tell whether your child has a cold or flu and how to ease the symptoms.

Why do kids catch so many colds?

It may seem that your child is always catching colds, but this is actually a normal part of childhood – most preschool children have at least six colds a year.ii

The common cold can be caused by more than 100 known cold virusesiii (the most common is the rhinovirus). If your child suffers from many colds, it’s not a sign of a weak immune system.i Small children tend to have more colds than adults or older kids because they haven’t yet built up immunity towards the many different cold viruses.i

What causes colds and flu in babies and kids?

There are several ways a cold or flu virus can be passed on to your child:iv

  • Direct contact – certain viruses, including those that cause colds, can live outside the body (for example, on your hands). This means colds and the flu can easily spread through touching.
  • Indirect contact – respiratory viruses can also live on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs.
  • Through the air – some viruses can spread from infected people to others through the air. If you have a cold or the flu and cough or sneeze without covering your mouth, you could expel these viruses into the air, where they can then be inhaled by others.

To keep cold and flu germs at bay, encourage your little ones to wash their hands thoroughly with soap.x

Child and baby cold symptoms

If you’re wondering whether your child has a cold, look out for the following symptoms:v

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever (less commonly)
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Green or yellow nasal discharge

Learn how to treat your kid's headache.

What’s the difference between child and baby cold and flu?

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between cold and flu in kids. Many flu symptoms in kids are similar to those of a common cold, so it’s good to understand the main differences.

 

COLD

FLU

How quickly has the illness developed?

Cold symptoms tend to develop gradually.vi

Comes on quickly, typically within a few hours.vi

How does your child feel?

Runny or blocked nose, sore throat, headache, coughing, sneezing and may have a fever.v Young children may have green or yellow-coloured discharge coming from their nose.v

Difficulty breathing. Blue-coloured skin. Refusing to eat or drink. Irritability. Fever and a rash. Persistent vomiting. Not waking up properly or not interacting.vii

How is their appetite affected?

Possible loss of appetite due to loss of taste and smell.vi

Possible loss of appetite due to nausea and/or vomiting.vii

How much are they sleeping/resting during the day?

They’ll feel unwell, and should be kept home from school or preschool.

They’ll feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on about their day as normal. vi

Have they got a fever?

They may have a fever, but this is less common.v

Likely to have a sudden onset of fever.vii

How long has the illness lasted?

Around 7-10 days.v

Around 2-7 days.vii

Cold and flu medicine for kids

While there’s no cure for the common cold, you can rest assured that it will normally clear up on its ownxi. However, if your child has a severe cold or flu symptoms, there are steps you can take to help make them feel more comfortable.

There’s a wide range of over-the-counter medicines available, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your child. Use our age guides to see which products are best for managing the symptoms of pain and fever associated with your baby’s cold or flu:

  • Baby cold and flu symptom relief– these include colour-free baby drops suitable for children aged 1 month to 2 years – e.g. Children's Panadol Colour-Free Baby Drops – and suppositories for babies older than 6 months.

Children aged 1-5 – choose from colour-free suspension, suppositories and chewable tablets such as Children's Panadol Chewable Tablets 3+.

Other ways to ease cold and flu symptoms in kids

There are a number of home remedies you can try to help manage the symptoms of colds and flu in children:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to help avoid dehydration - staying hydrated ensures that the body can function properly and can defend itself more effectively against a cold or fluviii
  • Eating nourishing food –even if your child doesn’t feel like eating much, ensure you keep offering them small and nutritious meals to keep up their energy levels.xii
  • Saline drops – saltwater nose drops or a nasal spray (followed by bulb suction for infants) can dilute mucusix and help ease breathing.

When to call the doctor

If your child experiences any of the following, you should seek advice from your doctor:v

  • Persistent coloured discharge from the nose
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever that does not respond to paracetamol
  • Vomiting frequently
  • Intense headache
  • Persistent cough 

SOURCES

By clicking any of the links below you will be taken to an external website that is independently operated and not managed by GSK. GSK assumes no responsibility for the content on the website. If you do not wish to leave this website, do not click on the links below.

i.Colds in children. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722603/. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF. 

ii.Viral illnesses. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Viral_illnesses/. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

iii.Common Cold. MSD Manual. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/respiratory-viruses/common-cold. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

iv.Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/index.html. Accessed August 17, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

v.Common cold. Healthy WA – Health Information for Western Australians. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Common-cold. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

vi.Common cold. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

vii.Flu (influenza). Healthy WA – Health Information for Western Australians. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/F_I/Flu-influenza. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

viii.Cold and Flu: What to Eat and Drink to Get Better Faster. Health Engine. https://healthengine.com.au/info/cold-and-flu-what-to-eat-and-drink-to-get-better-faster. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

ix.Help for a Child with a Cold. Stanford Children’s Health. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=help-for-a-child-with-a-cold-1-2432. Accessed February 21, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

x.The flu and you. Australian Government Department of Health. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/the-flu-and-you-brochure. Accessed February 28, 2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

xi.Colds in children. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722603/. Accessed 26/03/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF.

xii.Colds in children. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722603/. Accessed 26/03/2020. Referenced text is highlighted in source PDF. 

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