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L'înformâtion et les sèrvices publyis pouor I'Île dé Jèrri

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Coughs and colds in under 5s


It may seem like your child has always got a cold or upper respiratory tract infection. It’s completely normal for a child to have a cold 8 or more times a year. This is because there are hundreds of different viruses, and young children are meeting each one of them for the first time. Gradually they build up immunity and get fewer colds. Most colds will get better in 5 - 7 days.

Here are some suggestions on how to treat them:

  • saline nose drops can help loosen dried nasal secretions and relieve a stuffy nose. Ask your pharmacist, general practitioner (GP) or health visitor about them
  • increase the amount of fluid your child normally drinks
  • if your child has a fever, pain and discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen will help ease discomfort and fever. There are products especially for children. It will state on the packet how much you should give children of different ages
  • encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to help stop the cold spreading
  • because colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria, antibiotics don’t help. Nasal decongestants can make stuffiness worse. Never use them for more than 2 or 3 days

Sore throats

Many sore throats are caused by viral illnesses like colds or flu. Your child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or so before the cold starts. Sometimes with a sore throat your child may find it hard and painful to swallow, have a high temperature and have swollen glands at the front of the neck, high up under the jaw. The majority of sore throats will clear up on their own after a few days. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given to help reduce the pain.

If your child has a sore throat for more than 4 days, has a high temperature and is generally unwell or is unable to swallow fluids or saliva, see your GP.


Children often cough when they have a cold because of mucus trickling down the back of the throat. If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing normally and there is no wheezing, a cough is not usually anything to worry about. But if your child has a bad cough that will not go away, see your GP.

If your child has a high temperature and cough and / or is breathless, they may have a chest infection. If this is caused by bacteria rather than a virus, your GP will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. These will not soothe or stop the cough straight away.

If a cough continues for a long time, especially if it’s more troublesome at night or is brought on by your child running about, it could be a sign of asthma. Some children with asthma also have a wheeze or some breathlessness. If your child has any of these symptoms, take them to your GP.
If your child seems to be having trouble breathing, contact your GP, even if it’s the middle of the night.

This information has been taken from the NHS Birth to Five Book. The whole book can be seen on the NHS website.​

NHS Website - Birth to Five Book

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