Cough/colds (over 1's)

Cough is extremely common in children and usually gets better by itself with no specific treatment, although the cough often takes 2 to 3 weeks to disappear. Occasionally, children with cough can sometimes develop a chest infection.

Symptoms of a chest infection:

  • Prolonged fever
  • Breathing faster than usual
  • Using extra effort when breathing
  • Being too breathless to feed (young children) or complete sentences (older children)
  • Chest pain when breathing or coughing
When should you worry?

If your child has any of the following:

  • Breathing very fast or breathing that stops or pauses
  • Makes a grunting noise every time they breathe out
  • A harsh noise as they breathe in (stridor) present all of the time (even when they are not upset)
  • Becomes pale, blue, mottled and/or unusually cold to touch
  • Difficult to wake up, very sleepy or confused
  • Weak, high-pitched, continuous cry or can’t be settled
  • Has a fit (seizure)
  • Is under 3 months old with temperature more than 38°C or under 36°C (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)
  • Has a rash that does not go away with pressure (the ‘Glass Test’)

You need urgent help.

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999

If your child has any of the following:

  • Working hard to breathe, drawing in of the muscles below the ribs
  • A harsh noise as they breathe in (stridor) only when upset
  • Dry skin, lips or tongue
  • Not had a wee or wet nappy in last 8 hours
  • Poor feeding in babies (less than half of their usual amount)
  • Irritable (Unable to settle them with toys, TV, food or hugs even after their fever has come down)
  • Is 3-6 months old with temperature 39oC or above (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)
  • Temperature of 38oC or above for more than 5 days or shivering with fever(rigors)
  • Temperature less than 36°C in those over 3 months
  • Getting worse or you are worried about them

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today.

Please ring your GP surgery or contact NHS 111 - dial 111 or for children aged 5 years and above visit 111.nhs.uk

If none of the above features are present

  • Watch them closely for any change and look out for any red or amber symptoms
  • Additional advice is also available for families for help cope with crying in otherwise well babies
  • If your child has a long term condition or disability and you are worried please contact your regular team or follow any plans that they have given you.

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, contact NHS 111 – dial 111 or for children aged 5 years and above visit 111.nhs.uk

Causes of cough

Most cases of cough in children (under 5 years of age) are caused by viral infections; your child may also have a runny nose, cough or earache.

Treatment

Most children with coughs/colds do no require treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics rarely speed up recovery and often cause side effects such as rash and diarrhoea. They will also promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your child.


Antibiotics are usually only considered if your child has a high fever for more than 24 hours and is breathing faster than normal plus using extra effort when breathing. If your child has a wheeze and difficulty breathing, they are very unlikely to benefit from antibiotics but may benefit from inhalers.

In addition, if your child has any amber or red features above, they will need to be urgently seen by a healthcare professional who may decide that your child may benefit from additional treatment.

You can help relieve symptoms by:

  • Giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen if they have a fever
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids

It can take a few weeks for a child to fully recover from a cough. Children rarely cough up phlegm, but they are still clearing their chest. If you are worried that after an initial improvement, their cough getting significantly worse, or not getting better after 4 weeks, you should take your child to see their GP. Most children make a full recovery from a chest infection with no lasting effects.

Prevention

It is not always easy to avoid catching these infections. However, good hygiene practices can prevent infections spreading

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly
  • Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing and put it in the bin
  • Avoid sharing glasses or utensils with people who are unwell

This guidance is written by healthcare professionals from across Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.

Hide this section
Show accessibility tools