Colds and Cough

Colds are caused by many viruses. Viruses are very tiny “bugs” that cause various infections. Unlike infections caused by bacteria (like a strep infection of the throat), viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics. They go away on their own as a result of the body’s own defense systems fighting them off.

Colds usually last for 3 to 10 days, but may last up to 2 weeks. Common symptoms of colds include: runny or stuffy nose, fever, cough, sore throat and tiredness.  Although we cannot cure viral infections and colds, we can do a number of things to make children feel better while they have a cold.

What follows below are some helpful hints in managing and preventing colds.

Symptom management

  • Encourage your child to drink more and get plenty of rest.  If your baby is still breast feeding or on formula, continue his or her regular feedings.  You may need to decrease the volume some, increase the frequency of feeds or water down breast milk or formula to make it easier to swallow.  For children not breastfeeding or formula feeding, warm fluids can help loosen nasal congestion and coughs, and may be soothing for sore throats.
  • Breathing cool moist air is helpful for soothing a cough.  Consider letting your child breath in the steam from a shower and/or using a cool mist humidifier in his or her bedroom
  • A bulb syringe and saline (salt water) nose drops may be helpful for nasal congestion. Saline can be purchased at the pharmacy.  Saline nose sprays may be used in older children.  Never use other nose drops or sprays in young children without consulting your provider. When using nose sprays, apply to one nostril, wait a minute or two and then apply to the second nostril.
  • Analgesics/antipyretics such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (buprofen) may help reduce the discomfort of a sore throat and/or sore muscles.  Acetaminophen can be given every 4 hours as needed and Ibuprofen every 6 hours as needed.  Keep in mind that fevers are not harmful!  Unless your child is uncomfortable, you do not need to give Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for fever reduction
  • 2.5ml to 5mL of honey can be useful for nighttime coughing in children over age 1.  Never give honey to children younger than 1 year!
  • Over the counter cough and cold medicines are NOT recommended for use in children under age 12 years.  Coughing clears the lungs of mucous and is often beneficial to cold resolution.  For that reason cough suppressants may actually delay the resolution of coughs.


  • Hand washing - Frequent and thorough hand washing can help reduce the risk of any infection, including colds.  Encouraging children to limit touching their face, mouth or nose also helps reduce the development and spread of colds.
  • Disinfectants - Frequent cleaning of surfaces with antibacterial and antiviral non-toxic products helps reduce the risk of developing or spreading most illnesses.
  • Cover your cough!  Encourage your child to cough into their elbow.  This will help prevent a sick child from giving their illness to others. 

Takeaway message

Most colds resolve within 2 weeks.  Treatment is only useful to manage symptoms but does not change how long the cough or cold lasts. 

One final note

Colds and coughs can occasionally become ear infections, sinus infections, or pneumonia. If your child has a persistent fever, a persistent cough, ear pain, or seems to be getting worse, or if your child is having fast or labored breathing that suggests he or she is working harder than usual to breath, please call our office. Call time: 8:30 - 9:00am

Additional resources

Additional information on the common cold from the American Academy of Pediatrics