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Care for Toddlers' Colds and Coughs


toddler sitting up in bed, blowing her nose


Most children develop mild colds and coughs at least once a year.

Symptoms usually improve within a week and disappear within 14 days. But toddlers under three need careful attention; they can get very sick.

When your toddler has a cough or cold, you might notice a runny nose, cough (which may or may not produce mucus), fever or sore throat. Your toddler may also be irritable. To support a healthy recovery:

  • Let your toddler rest.
  • Keep the room temperature comfortable - not too hot.
  • Give your toddler plenty of fluids (breast milk, water, other fluids).
  • Use a cool air humidifier.
  • Use saline drops in your toddler’s nostrils to help clear a stuffy nose.
  • Raise the head of your toddler’s bed by 2.5–5 cm (1–2 in.) by placing blocks under the legs.
  • Provide extra attention.
  • Practice good hand washing. 

Colds and Antibiotics

If your toddler has a cold, antibiotics won't help. Colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics can't treat viruses. There is also a risk of side effects from antibiotics, including allergic reaction. More common side effects include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections.

Antibiotics also kill good bacteria contributing to the growth of dangerous antibiotic-resistant superbugs. If you are concerned about your toddler’s cough or cold, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or contact your public health office or family doctor.

Cold and Fever Medications

  • Never give your toddler decongestant or antihistamine medications unless recommended by your doctor.
  • Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce pain or fever.

Always check the label carefully so you administer the right amount. Call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for guidelines if needed.

Resources & Links:
HealthLink BC: Croup
HealthLink BC: Ear Infections
HealthLink BC: Using Vaporizers and Humidifiers

Last Updated: August 8, 2013