Cough and cold

Coughs and colds are extremely common in young children. Over the first year of life, your child is likely to have up to 8 of these episodes.

  • Coughing is the body's natural way of clearing infection.
  • Most of these are likely to be caused by a virus, which means that antibiotics are of no benefit (and may actually result in side effects such as rash and diarrhoea, as well as increasing the risk of them developing antibiotic resistance). 
  • Having green snot or a noisy chest does not mean that your child has an infection requiring antibiotics.
  • It can sometimes be harder to identify the cause of a cough. In general, if it is associated with a runny nose, red eyes, ear pain or a wheeze, is is far more likely to be viral. Noisy chests are also common in young children with viral infections. 
  • Coughing can wake a child in the night but does not mean the illness is more severe.
  • Children requiring antibiotics usually appear more unwell, with difficulty breathing, drowsiness, cold hands and feet and possibly blue lips - seek urgent medical attention if any of these features are present. 
  • If your child has any of the above features, urgently see your GP or go to your local walk in centre.


What should you do?

  • Keep your child well hydrated by offering them lots of fluids.
  • Try children's paracetamol and/or ibuprofen - cough syrup does not tend to help with coughs.
  • Try using saline nose drops or spray if your baby has a blocked nose.
  • For children over 1 year, a spoon of honey (perhaps in a warm drink) half an hour before bed may help them to wake less often in the night.
  • For children over 2 years, vapour rubs (containing camphor, menthol and/or eucalyptus) may help children sleep better.


How long will your child's symptoms last?

  • Unfortunately, coughs and colds can continue for weeks before they get better. In addition, over the winter, children are likely to get one viral infection after another, which can make you think that they are never well. Things will get better in the summer months!
  • Having a cough for 2 or 3 weeks does not mean that your child needs antibiotics.
  • The charts below show how long coughs and colds last in children. The faces represent 10 children who have seen their GP with a cough or cold. Green faces are those children who have recovered within that time period.


The diagrams above are taken from

Feverish Child

When should you worry?

Your child should see a doctor if they...

  • have laboured, rapid breathing, or working hard at breathing - drawing in of muscles below the lower ribs when they breath in and/or blue around the lips.
  • are getting increasingly drowsy.
  • are too breathless to drink and you are concerned that they are getting dehydrated (peeing less, dry eyes/mouth).


Where should you seek help?

Find urgent care services near you