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Cold and Flu FAQ: How to Soothe Your Child

How do I calm a cough?

  • Offer your child plenty of fluids, especially water, diluted fruit juice, or hot soup. Even a popsicle provides fluid. Liquids can help break the cough cycle.
  • Turn on a steamy shower, and close the bathroom door. Then sit with your child on the floor or a chair next to the shower while he inhales steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Steam can ease congestion, which can trigger coughing.
  • At night, put a couple of pillows behind your child’s head so he’s not lying flat. This helps reduce coughing from post-nasal drip.
  • Put a cool mist humidifier by your child’s bed. Moisture in the air helps ease coughing and congestion.
  • Give him a teaspoon of honey, which helps suppress cough. (Honey isn’t safe for babies younger than 1.)
  • Ask your pediatrician about over-the-counter cough medicine if your child is 4 or older. (They aren’t recommended for kids under age 4.)


How can I soothe a sore throat?

  • Give cold liquids, especially water, juices, electrolyte solutions, or popsicles. The coldness of a popsicle helps ease a sore throat.  
  • Offer warm liquids because they may also help. One choice is decaffeinated tea with honey if your child is older than 1.
  • Encourage gargling with warm, salted water. This may help to cleanse the throat, which helps recovery from a respiratory infection. Gargling is easier for children over the age of 5.
  • Ease the pain of a sore throat with either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Choose one type and stick with it. It’ll take about 30 minutes for the pain relief to kick in. Give the correct dose for your child’s weight and age, as listed on the back of the bottle.

How can I ease an earache?

Fluid that builds up behind the eardrum causes pressure -- and piercing pain. Have you ever been on a plane and felt pressure and pain as you’re about to land? That’s how your child may feel.

  • Let young children suck on a lollipop -- if you prefer, older kids can chew gum -- to help ease pressure in the ears.
  • Put a warm cloth against the aching ear. This reduces pain by helping blood circulate.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief if the steps above don’t help.
  • Ask your pediatrician about ear drops to ease pain for a child younger than 2.
  • Call your child’s doctor if an earache lasts more than 24 hours, or if your child has high fever, headache, vomiting, or jaw pain.

What should I do about a fever?

  • Try to stay calm by remembering that fever is how the body defends itself against an infection.
  • Offer fluid often. Fever increases the chance of dehydration. If your child doesn’t feel like drinking, offer small sips every 10 to 15 minutes. 
  • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your child can’t sleep or eat because he’s so uncomfortable. Both reduce fever and ease pain. Never give aspirin to children with a fever because it can lead to Reye’s syndrome, a serious problem.
  • Call your pediatrician if a fever lasts more than 24 or 48 hours -- or if your child also has a headache, vomiting, or a rash.

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