Common Cold in Children

What is the common cold in children?

The common cold (upper respiratory
infection) is one of the most common illnesses in children. Each year it leads to more
healthcare provider visits and missed days from school and work than any other illness.
Millions of people in the U.S. will get a cold each year.

Here are a few facts:

  • Most children will have at least 6 to 8 colds a year. Children who attend daycare will have more.
  • Colds may occur less often after age 6.
  • Children are more likely to have colds during fall and winter.

What causes the common cold in a child?

Colds happen when a virus irritates (inflames) the lining of the nose and throat. Colds can be caused by more than 200 different viruses. But most colds are caused by rhinoviruses.

To catch a cold, your child must come in contact with someone who is infected with one of the cold viruses. The cold virus can be spread:

  • Through the air. If a person with a cold sneezes or coughs, small amounts of the virus can go into the air. Then if your child breathes in that air, the virus will stick inside your child’s nose (nasal membrane).
  • By direct contact. This means that your child touches an infected person. A cold is easy for children to spread. That’s because they touch their nose, mouth, and eyes often and then touch other people or objects. This can spread the virus. It’s important to know that viruses can be spread through objects, such as toys, that have been touched by someone with a cold.

Which children are at risk for the common cold?

All children are at risk for the common cold. They are more likely than adults to get a cold. Here are some reasons why:

  • Less resistance. A child’s immune system is not as strong as an adult’s when it comes to fighting cold germs.
  • Winter season. Most respiratory illnesses happen in fall and winter, when children are indoors and around more germs. The humidity also drops during this season. This makes the passages in the nose drier and at greater risk for infection.
  • School or daycare. Colds spread easily when children are in close contact.
  • Hand-to-mouth contact. Children are likely to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth without washing their hands. This is the most common way germs are spread.

What are the symptoms of the common cold in a child?

Cold symptoms start from 1 to 3
days after your child has been in contact with the cold virus. Symptoms often last about
1 week. But they may last up to 2 weeks. Symptoms may be a bit different for each

In babies, cold symptoms may include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fussiness
  • Congestion in the nose
  • Sometimes vomiting and diarrhea
  • Fever

Older children may have:

  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Scratchy, tickly throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Mild hacking cough
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Achy muscles and bones
  • Headaches
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chills
  • Watery discharge from the nose that thickens and turns yellow or green
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

These symptoms may seem like other health problems, such as the flu. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is the common cold diagnosed in a child?

Most common colds are diagnosed based on symptoms. But cold symptoms may seem like other bacterial infections, allergies, and health problems.