Coughs, colds and ear infections in children

Coughs and colds

Coughs and coldsIt is extremely common for young children to get an occasional cough, or a cold, even an annual ear infection. We have put together this text on the most common childhood ailments and some tips on how to treat them. If you are in doubt however you should visit your doctor.


A cough is a usual symptom quite often connected to the child having a cold. It is normally self limiting and will generally not turn into anything serious. If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing relatively normally a cough isn’t usually anything to worry about. Keep an eye out for wheezing though as this can be a sign that things are getting more serious.

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 e.g. peanut.

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

  • high temperature
  • persistent or unusual cough
  • breathlessness at rest or on exertion
  • occurring at night
  • fatigue and listless or overly tired
  • in discomfort

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

Although it’s upsetting to hear your child cough, coughing helps clear away phlegm from the chest or mucus from the back of the throat. It is a good thing!

Sore throats

Sore throats can be caused by viral illnesses such as colds or flu. Your child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or two before a cold blooms.

Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days. If your child has a sore throat for more than 4 days, has a high temperature and is feeling unwell, this is the point to see your doctor. You should also seek medical attention if he is having problems swallowing fluids or saliva.


It is normal for a child to have up to 8 or more colds per year. This is as a result of hundreds of different cold viruses. 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.

Most colds get better in 5 to 7 days. Here are some suggestions on how to ease the symptoms in your child:

Increase the amount of fluid he normally drinks.

Saline nose drops can help loosen dried nasal secretions and relieve a stuffy nose. Ask your pharmacist, doctor or early childhood nurse about them.

If your child has a fever, pain or discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. There are child and infant products that will state on the packet how much you should give children of different ages.

Encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to stop the cold spreading.

Nasal decongestants can make stuffiness worse. Never use them for more than 2 or 3 days.

Ear infections

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

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

After an ear infection your child may have a problem hearing for 2 to 6 weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your doctor for advice.

Don’t forget if you are in any doubt then seek medical attention.