It is common for young children to get the odd cough, cold or even ear infection. Read further to find out more about these common childhood ailments.
In children cough is a common symptom which is commonly caused by a cold. Usually a cough is self limiting and not serious. If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing normally and there’s no wheezing, a cough isn’t usually anything to worry about.
If your child has a bad cough that won’t go away, see your doctor. Causes of a more serious cough in children can include;
Signs of a more serious cause of a childhood cough can include;
- high temperature
- persistant or unual cough
- breathlessness at rest or on exertion
- occurs at night
- listless or overly tired
- in discomfort.
If your child has any of these symptoms take them to the doctor. If your child seems to be having trouble breathing, seek medical attention urgently or call an ambulance, even if it’s the middle of the night.
Although it’s upsetting to hear your child cough, coughing helps clear away phlegm from the chest or mucus from the back of the throat.
Sore throats are often caused by viral illnesses such as colds or flu. Your child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or two before a cold starts. Infant or child dosage paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given to reduce the pain.
Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days. 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 doctor.
It is normal for a child to have 8 or more colds per year. This is because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity to any of them as they've never had them before. Gradually they build up immunity and get fewer colds.
Most colds get better in 5 to 7 days. Here are some suggestions on how to ease the symptoms in your child:
- Increase the amount of fluid your child normally drinks.
- Saline nose drops can help loosen dried nasal secretions and relieve a stuffy nose. Ask your pharmacist, doctor or early childhood nurse about them.
- If your child has a fever, pain or discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. There are child and infant products that will state on the packet how much you should give children of different ages.
- Encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to stop the cold spreading.
- Nasal decongestants can make stuffiness worse. Never use them for more than 2 or 3 days.
Ear infections are common in babies and small children. They often follow a cold and sometimes cause a temperature. A child may pull or rub at an ear, but babies can’t always tell where pain is coming from and may just cry and seem uncomfortable.
If your child has an earache but is otherwise well, give them infant or child dose paracetamol or ibuprofen for 12-24 hours. Don’t put any oil, eardrops or cotton buds into your child’s ear unless your doctor advises you to do so. Most ear infections are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. They will just get better by themselves.
After an ear infection your child may have a problem hearing for 2 to 6 weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your doctor for advice.
Repeated middle ear infections (otitis media) may lead to 'glue ear' (otitis media with effusion), where sticky fluid builds up and can affect your child’s hearing. This may lead to unclear speech or behavioural problems.
Your doctor will give you advice on treating glue ear.
Last reviewed: October 2016