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

4-minute read

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 cough occurs at night
  • the child is listless, overly tired or in discomfort
  • your child's skin changes colour and turns blue or very pale

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 or the 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. 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 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.

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.

Last reviewed: September 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Common cold

A cold is a viral infection which affects the nose, ears and throat. There are more than 200 different types of viruses that can cause the common cold.

Read more on WA Health website

Snoring in children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

Lots of children snore. Snoring in children can have several causes, many of which you dont need to worry about. But talk to a GP if youre concerned.

Read more on Raising Children Network 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 doesnt usually need special treatment.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Measles in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Measles can be very serious. Symptoms include a runny nose, fever and rash. Immunisation protects your child, but children can still get measles.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Influenza or flu: children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

Influenza is a viral illness, often mild in children. Flu symptoms include runny nose, sore throat and muscle aches. You can usually treat symptoms at home.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Frostbite: children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Frostbite can happen when the skin is exposed to extreme cold. Frostbite needs immediate emergency care. Heres what to do if your child gets frostbite.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Cold sores: children, teens & adults | Raising Children Network

Cold sores are quite common in older children and adults. Cold sores usually clear up by themselves, but see your GP if youre concerned.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Flu (influenza)

Flu (influenza) is a common, highly contagious virus that affects your respiratory system. It is not the same as the common cold.

Read more on WA Health website

Winter activities to keep children active | Raising Children Network

When its cold and wet, being physically active can be harder. Our ideas for fun winter activities for children and the whole family will get you all going.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Scalds and children - NT.GOV.AU

Find out how to protect your child from scalds and burns at home.

Read more on NT Health 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 Government of Western Australia, health department logo