Treating Colds in Children

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on February 19, 2024
2 min read
  • Your child has difficulty breathing or is breathing unusually fast

There's no way to cure your child's cold, which could last up to two weeks, but you can help relieve the symptoms that make your baby or toddler uncomfortable.

  • Your child has a cold and is 3 months or younger
  • Your child has a severe or "barking" cough
  • Your child has ear pain
  • Symptoms don't get better after 10 to 14 days
  • Your child has a persistent fever, decreased activity, or lack of appetite
  • Your child is breathing fast
  • Your child's urine output has decreased


  • Use an infant nasal bulb, or aspirator, to suck mucus from your baby's nose.
  • If your child is able, have them blow their nose regularly.
  • Use a saline spray to moisten the nasal passages before suctioning mucus or a saline gel to cut down on inflammation.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier if the air is dry.
  • Sit in the bathroom with the hot shower running and have your child breathe in the steam.
  • If your child is over 3 months, offer an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte and increase nursing to get more fluids into your baby. Hydration helps to loosen mucus.
  • Older children can have warm soups and fruit. Avoid soft drinks or anything with caffeine.
  • You don't need to treat a fever unless it is making your child uncomfortable.
  • If your child is older than 6 months, you can give children's-formula acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever. Don't give aspirin to children younger than 16 years old. Don't give ibuprofen to children under 6 months.
  • Follow the dosing instructions on the medication. Use a formula that's made for children, not adults.
  • Never use a cold or cough medicine in kids under age 6 unless the doctor suggests it.
  • If your child is over age 1, try 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of honey for cough.
  • Raising the head of your child's bed may help relieve congestion.
  • Rub petroleum jelly under the nose to prevent chapping.
  • Avoid irritants, such as cigarette smoke.
  • Be patient. Colds usually last one to two weeks and clear on their own.