Colds, Coughs and Ear Infections in Children

It is common for young children to get the odd cold, cough or even ear infection.


It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year. 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.

In five to seven days, most colds get better. 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 relieve a stuffy nose and loosen dried nasal secretions. Ask your early childhood nurse, doctor or pharmacist about them.
  • If your child has a pain, fever or discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. There are infant and child products that will state on the packet how much you should give children of different ages.
  • To stop the cold spreading, encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly.
  • Nasal decongestants can make stuffiness worse; use them only for two or three days.


In children, cough is a common symptom, commonly caused by a cold. Usually a cough is not serious and self limiting. If your child is eating, drinking, feeding 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:

  • croup, whooping cough
  • asthma, pneumonia
  • swallowing a foreign object

Signs of a more serious cause of a childhood cough can include:

  • in discomfort, high temperature
  • usual or persistant cough
  • breathlessness on exertion or at rest
  • occurs at night
  • overly tired or listless

If your child has any of these symptoms take them to the doctor. Seek medical attention urgently or call an ambulance, even if it’s the middle of the night, if your child seems to be having trouble breathing.

Coughing helps clear away phlegm from the chest or mucus from the back of the throat, although it’s upsetting to hear your child cough.

Ear infections

Ear infections are common in small children and babies. They sometimes cause a temperature and often follow a cold. A child may pull or rub at an ear, but babies can’t always tell where pain is coming from and may seem uncomfortable or just cry.

If your child has an earache but is otherwise well, give them child or infant dose ibuprofen or paracetamol for 12-24 hours. Don’t put any eardrops, oil or cotton buds into your child’s ear unless your doctor advises you to do so. Viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics, cause most ear infections or they will just get better by themselves.

Your child may have a problem hearing for two to six weeks, after an ear infection, but if the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your doctor for advice.

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