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Respiratory Problems, Age 11 and Younger - Home Treatment

Most children have 7 to 10 mild upper respiratory infections each year. Your child may feel uncomfortable and have a stuffy nose. The infection is usually better within a week and is usually gone within 14 days.

Home treatment is appropriate for mild symptoms and can help your child feel better.

  • Keep the room temperature comfortable for you and your child. A hot, dry environment will increase nasal congestion.
  • Raise the head of your baby's bed about 1 in. (2.5 cm) to 2 in. (5 cm) by placing blocks under the crib. Do not raise just the mattress because it may leave a gap for your baby to roll into. Do not raise the head of the bed if your baby is younger than 6 months.
  • Prevent dehydration.
    • Let your baby breast-feed more often or give your baby extra bottles. Liquids may help thin the mucus and also reduce fever (if present).
    • Do not awaken your child during naps or at night to take fluids.
    • Do not force your child to take fluids, which may cause your child to vomit.
  • Give your child extra cuddling and distraction.
  • Let your child get extra rest to fight the infection.
  • Do not give your child leftover antibiotics or antibiotics or other medicines prescribed for someone else.
  • Put a vaporizer or humidifier in your child's room if he or she is breathing through the mouth.
    • Lukewarm mist may help your child feel more comfortable by soothing the swollen air passages. It may also help with your child's hoarseness. But do not let your child's room get uncomfortably cold or very damp.
    • Use a shallow pan of water to provide moisture in the air through evaporation if you don't have a humidifier. Place the pan where no one will trip on it or fall into it.
  • If your child has a stuffy nose:
    • Use saline nose drops to help with nasal congestion.
    • Use a rubber bulb to suction the nose sparingly. It will help reduce nasal drainage if your baby is having difficulty breast-feeding or bottle-feeding or seems to be short of breath. Babies often do not like having their noses suctioned with a rubber bulb.
    • Do not give your child oral antihistamines or decongestants unless directed to do so by your child's doctor. Antihistamines and decongestants can cause your child to behave differently, making it harder to tell how sick he or she really is. Studies show that over-the-counter cough medicines do not work very well. And some of these medicines can cause problems if you use too much of them. It is important to use medicines correctly and to keep them out of the reach of children to prevent accidental use.
  • If your child has a cough:
    • Honey or lemon juice in hot water or tea may help a dry cough. Do not give honey to a child younger than 1 year old. It may have bacteria that are harmful to babies.
    • Be careful with cough and cold medicines, including any products with menthol. They may not be safe for young children, so check the label first. If you do give these medicines to a child, always follow the directions about how much to give based on the child's age and weight. For more information, see Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.
    • If your child has a barking cough during the night, you can help him or her breathe better by following the home treatment for a barking cough.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your child's fever or pain:

Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all labels on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Give, but do not exceed, the maximum recommended doses.
  • Do not give your child a medicine if he or she has had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless directed to do so by your child's doctor.
  • Do not give naproxen (such as Aleve) to children younger than age 12 unless your child's doctor tells you to.
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