So what’s a parent to do when they have a miserable child who is coughing, spluttering and struggling to sleep through the night? The following is a list that will hopefully give you options and some relief as a parent in managing a cold in babies and young children to help relieve their symptoms and make your child feel as comfortable as possible whilst suffering from a cold.
- Give your baby/toddler/child Paracetamol every 6 hours to relieve a fever or headaches for up to 48 hours if the child is uncomfortable. Whilst paracetamol is the first option recommended to treat fever, most infants and children can tolerate a low-grade fever (eg 38–38.5°C) well. They often respond to fluids and comfort, and may not need medication. When I was growing up my parents would check my temperature and as soon as it was over 37 degrees celsius, I would be given Paracetamol. This was the done thing, but today it is recommended to leave a temperature if it doesn’t bother your child because it is your body’s response to fight off the virus by raising the body’s temperature. However if your child is bothered and irritated by the fever, it is then recommended to give Paracetamol to make your child more comfortable. Be mindful there are different strengths of Paracetamol and always double check the dose on the bottle according to the weight of your child not age.
- Make your baby/child feel comfortable Often a baby with a blocked nose, congestion, cough can feel quite distressed and anxious suffering with these symptoms. It may even be your baby’s first cold so do be mindful they will need extra cuddles and affection. This also applies in the middle of the night when they may wake themselves coughing and often quite upset if experiencing a blocked nose. It’s a sensation that can even distress us when we are unwell. So sit them up for a minute offer them water, if they push it away sometimes the only thing that may settle them may just be a breastfeed or bottle, this will maintain their hydration and comfort them.
- Nasal saline sprays Up to the age of three months, babies insist on breathing through their nose, even when it’s blocked. So this means they have particular difficulty when it comes to feeding and they really need a little help from mum to clear their nasal passages. You might think first of sucking the nasal discharge out with an aspirator. In my experience, these can unsettle babies, and are pretty much guaranteed to wake them up if they’re asleep. A better way of clearing nasal discharge is to use a simple saline spray. Often the tickly spray causes a sneeze, which is the absolute best way of clearing mucus! But if not, the gentle pressure of the spray shifts mucus backwards allowing the baby to swallow it away.
- What we know is that the cold virus affects the tiny little hairs that move mucus through the nasal passages. They affect them in a way that the tiny hairs can no longer move the mucus down the throat and the interference can last anything from 12-20 days and in that period of time mucus can’t move naturally, so the baby/child becomes congested. The best thing to do during this time is to use nasal saline sprays to keep the mucus thin and runny and that is the best way to allow the mucus to naturally move down the throat.
- The more frequently you use the spray the less chance the mucus builds up to become thick and tenacious because once it becomes thick it is very difficult to shift. Also to help mucus drain down the throat you can try keeping baby in a more upright position. You might find that your baby feeds a little less while he or she is snotty. This is because the mucus they’re swallowing away is filling their tummy a little. And sometimes mucus acts as a bit of an irritant to babies’ tummies, so their appetite might drop off. It’s nothing to worry about: they just might appreciate shorter but more frequent feeds for a day or so. Rest and hydration are important, but once the mucus has gone, you’ll see them bounce back to their normal feeding pattern.
- The nasal sprays/drops do come in a few different brands eg Fess, Flo. Giving it to your baby 10 minutes before and during a feed to ensure their nose isn’t blocked is a good idea. My personal preference for a baby is the Flo brand of saline sprays, because it’s a gentle spray or drop, you can spray it at any angle, you don’t need an aspirator, it’s preservative free and the design of the bottle is easy to hold and use whilst trying to give it to your baby. These sprays are great because they can come as just saline or some of them come with eucalyptus for older children/adults to help clear a blocked nose.
- Vaporizer Using a vaporizer in your baby’s room whilst they are sleeping allows for a more peaceful nights sleep. In children under 2 years, I would recommend just water in the vaporizer as the steam is what makes the child breathe easier and I would not recommend the use of menthol/eucalyptus inhalant liquids in the vaporizer until your baby is over 2 years of age, due to the risk of the eucalyptus concentration building up in the room. Steam therapy is a natural, gentle and effective method to help keep airways clear and alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu. I would also highly recommend especially on cold nights, to set your child’s bedroom temperature to around 19-20 degrees, it stops the cold air hitting the lungs and tightening. When moist, warm air enters the lungs it helps to ‘liquefy’ mucus secretions and phlegm, making it easier to expel and breathe. There are different brands of vaporizers available on the market, Vicks and Eukybear both make them. I have both at home and they both are as effective as each other.
- Using a Eucalyptus baby balsam (ie. Vick’s baby balsam) which can be used from 3 months of age, contains very low concentrations of eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender and aloe vera. Rubbing the balm on your child’s chest or on the side of child’s pajamas works really well to relieve a blocked nose. Also rubbing the balm on your child’s feet and putting on socks works really well to relieve a cough.
- Honey Once your child is over one year of age you can give them a teaspoon of honey to coat the lining of the throat. This can help to reduce the tickle which sets off a cough. Even make your own cough mixture with some warm water, a teaspoon of honey and squeeze some lemon juice.
- Fluids Staying hydrated is very important when fighting infections (especially if your child has a fever) ie plenty of water, nice warm chicken soup, vitamin C packed fresh juices etc.
Please be aware that the above treatment is for the common cold and occasionally there can be complications ie an ear infection, croup, bronchiolitis, pneumonia etc If your child has a high fever for longer than 48 hours, that is not being brought down by paracetamol or your child refuses to take fluids, vomits frequently, has a severe headache, difficulty breathing, very lethargic, sleepy or a rash on the body, please see a doctor as soon as possible. A baby younger than 3 months old with a fever must be seen by a doctor immediately because it is difficult to tell if they have a more serious illness without proper medical investigation.
Please feel free to leave comments on this blog and if there are any questions I am more than happy to answer them. Also, if you tried a remedy that worked well for your children that was, or wasn’t mentioned above, let me know. I hope this information does help.
Disclaimer – The material on this blog is only to be used for informational purposes only. As each individual situation is unique, you should use proper discretion, in consultation with a health care practitioner, before applying the methods, medicines, techniques or otherwise described herein. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from the use or application of the information contained herein. The names of people mentioned in this blog have been changed to protect the real patient’s confidentiality.