Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year.

It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year.
beginning of content

Coughs, colds and ear infections in children

5-minute read

Colds and flu symptoms can be very similar to the symptoms of COVID-19. Even if your symptoms are mild, get tested for COVID-19 immediately — use the colds and flu Symptom Checker if you're not sure what to do.

It is common for young children to get the odd cough, cold or ear infection. Read further to find out more about these common childhood ailments.

Coughs

In children cough is a common symptom which is commonly caused by a cold. Usually a cough gets better on its own and is 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
  • persistent (longer than 2 weeks) or an unusual cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • the child is listless, overly tired or in discomfort
  • your child's skin changes colour and turns blue or very pale
  • they are not drinking fluids or passing urine

See the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms. 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

The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral illness, such as a cold, the flu or COVID-19. Your child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or 2 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. See the doctor if your child has trouble breathing or swallowing, is drooling more than usual, has a stiff or swollen neck or has a fever.

Colds

It is normal for a preschool child to have at least 6 or more colds a 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.

Antibiotics don’t help with colds as they are a viral illness. 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.
  • Avoid nasal decongestants. They don’t help with a cold and can causes side effects like fast heart rate, jitteriness and insomnia.

Ear infections

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 and is distressed but otherwise well, give them infant or child dose paracetamol or ibuprofen. 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.

If your child is young or very unwell, your GP may prescribe a short course of antibiotics if there is a risk of bacterial infection.

If you think your child may have an ear infection, take them to see the GP.

Glue ear

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.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Whooping cough: babies, children & teens | Raising Children Network

Whooping cough starts like a cold, followed by a cough with a whooping sound. Immunisation protects children, but see a GP if your child develops symptoms.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Cough in babies, children & teens | Raising Children Network

Children often get coughs, and their coughs tend to hang around. A cough can be upsetting for your child, but it doesn’t usually need special treatment.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Croup & stridor: babies & children | Raising Children Network

If your child has a barking cough, hoarse voice and stridor (noisy breathing), they might have croup. Most children with croup don’t need special treatment.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

What every parent should know about coughs, colds, earaches and sore throats - NPS MedicineWise

Children's coughs, colds, earaches and sore throats can worry you and make them miserable. Find out how to help your child feel better, and when to seek further advice. 

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Colds and flu in babies and children

Here is information on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments of coughs, colds and flu in children and babies and when to seek medical advice.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Cough: dry cough - MyDr.com.au

A dry cough is a cough where no phlegm or mucus is produced. Dry coughs may be caused by viral illnesses such as colds and flu, allergies or throat irritants.

Read more on myDr website

Bordetella pertussis - Lab Tests Online AU

When you have persistent, sharp spasms or fits of coughing (paroxysms) that the doctor suspects is due to pertussis (whooping cough) or when you have symptoms of a cold and have been exposed to someone with pertussis This is a group of tests that are performed to detect and diagnose a Bordetella pertussis infection

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Baby cold symptoms

A baby with a cold has symptoms like a blocked nose and cough. Baby colds usually heal without treatment but are sometimes a sign of more serious illness like pneumonia or ear infection.

Read more on Parenthub website

Coughs, colds and sore throats - Choosing wisely

Antibiotics aren’t likely to help coughs, colds or sore throats. Download a factsheet about treating respiratory infections here.

Read more on Choosing Wisely Australia website

Colds - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo