- What causes common cold in babies?
- How does cold affect babies?
- How is cold treated in babies?
- Are there any home remedies for infant’s cold?
- Are there complications of untreated cold in babies?
- How do I prevent cold in my infant?
- Frequently asked questions
Cold can make babies fussy. A runny nose and temperature leave them vexed. It is also quite difficult to provide them some relief from cold as the babies can’t be given just about any medication. Which is why, care and nourishment become extra vital during this infection. MomJunction acquaints you with everything about cold, its symptoms, and the various home remedies to tackle the condition.
What Causes Common Cold In Babies?
The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system. It is also known by other names such as head cold. There are over 100 viruses that can cause cold (1), below we list the most common viruses that cause cold in infants:
- Rhinovirus is the leading cause of common cold infection among babies (2). An average baby may develop about eight to ten rhinovirus-induced colds in the first couple of years of their life (3). The frequency of colds due to the virus increases if the baby spends substantial time at daycare centers.
- Adenovirus predominantly spreads in crowded environments. Therefore, it mostly strikes babies that spend time in packed daycare centers or among older infants that visit summer camps (4).
- Respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV, causes the most severe symptoms (5). It is the leading cause of common cold during winter and spring (6).
- Influenza virus, also called flu, is highly contagious and can transmit even when an infected person sneezes or coughs about six feet away (7). The virus also spreads through contaminated surfaces. Cold is among the several symptoms of influenza.
- Coronavirus is a relatively less common cause for cold, but when it strikes, it can lead to a fatal illness called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also known as SARS (8).
There are several viruses that cause cold, but what parents must know is how the baby would suffer due to these infections.
How Does Cold Affect Babies?
The symptoms of cold in babies are similar irrespective of the virus that is causing it. An infant will have these symptoms (9):
- Runny nose – drip of clear mucus that later thickens and becomes green or yellow
- Frequent sneezing
- Coughing and congestion in lungs
- Fever of 101-102°F (38.3-38.9°C) especially in the evening
- Red watery eyes
- Decreased appetite
- Irritability and fussiness
- Difficulty in falling asleep
- Chills and shivering
- Vomiting (in a case of flu)
- Diarrhea (in a case of flu and SARS)
Take your baby to the doctor since cold can interfere with daily activities such as sleeping and feeding. A blood test helps determine the underlying pathogen that led to the cold.
How Is Cold Treated In Babies?
There is no treatment for common cold, and like any other viral infection, one has to wait for the immune system to fight the pathogen on its own (10). Medications usually aim at relieving the intensity of the symptoms rather than curing the condition. Here is how cold in babies is treated:
- Antiviral medicines are typically prescribed only when the cold is due to serious viruses such as coronavirus and influenza. These medications slow down the rate of multiplication of the virus, thus buying time for the immune system. Antiviral medicines often have side effects and may not be prescribed unless the infant is in a poor state of health due to the cold (11).
- Fever-reducing medications only help ease the fever and do not cure a cold. Reducing fever, in turn, helps the baby feel at ease. Fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil), are available over-the-counter (OTC), but should be administered as per the pediatrician’s prescription. Never give aspirin since it causes Reye syndrome, a fetal condition in babies (12).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against giving any OTC cold or fever-reducing medicines to babies without pediatrician’s consultation. Nevertheless, parents can always rely on safe, natural, home remedies to help the baby deal with the virus.
Are There Any Home Remedies For Infant’s Cold?
Yes, home remedies are an excellent way of managing the baby’s cold. They help in cutting down the intensity of the symptoms significantly, making the condition more tolerable for an infant:
1. Increase the frequency of breastfeeding:
Breastmilk is rich in antibodies and nutrients that boost the baby’s immune system. In case of cold in newborns, like those who are a few weeks old, breastmilk is perhaps the best natural remedy for the infant’s cold (1).
2. Give frequent sips of water:
If the baby is older than six months, then you can give frequent sips of water. If the baby has a sore throat, fluids help moisturize the throat and make the baby feel better. Thickened mucus is also softened with regular intake of water.
3. Use nasal suction bulb or nasal spray:
Breathing can become difficult because of the accumulated mucus in the baby’s nose. You can pour a drop of nasal saline drops in each nostril. Use a rubber nasal suction bulb, clean it well, and insert the suction tip into the baby’s nose. Gently press the bulb to draw the mucus out. Express the collected mucus into a sink and wash the bulb with a disinfectant. Repeat whenever the mucus accumulates and the baby seems to have trouble breathing. In case of older infants, saline drops can make the thickened mucus dribble out of the nostril.
4. Use a humidifier:
Install a cool-mist humidifier in the baby’s room to maintain optimum humidity levels. This will help the baby breathe easily. Place the device close to the baby’s crib, but well beyond physical reach. Do not use steam or hot water vaporizers as steam increases the risk of nasal burns (13).
5. Give warm food:
You could give older infants warm food such as freshly-prepared baby cereal porridge. Warm foods soothe a sore throat, reduce coughing, and alleviate irritation caused by a constant, runny nose.
6. Fruit and vegetable purees help build resistance:
These foods are rich in antioxidants that play a vital role in putting up resistance against pathogens. Vitamins A and C are especially useful in boosting the immune system’s prowess (14). If your baby is older than 12 months, then you can give him citrus fruits that are rich in vitamin C and fruits such as mango that contain vitamin A (15).
7. Give honey (only 12 months and above):
Cough is among the symptoms of cold. Experts recommend honey as a safe home remedy for cough but only for babies older than 12 months (16). Give no more than half a teaspoon of honey whenever the baby breaks into continuous coughing. Always ensure that you brush your infant’s teeth after giving honey around bedtime.
Make the baby rest for as much time as possible.
Experts state that home remedies alone, without any medical intervention, have the potential to cure a cold in babies (17). But, sometimes, cold could grow into something worse.
Are There Complications Of Untreated Cold In Babies?
Cold viruses keep the baby’s immune system busy thus leaving the body vulnerable to secondary infections such as (18):
- Otitis media: The middle ear is infected by bacteria leading to an ear infection called otitis media.
- Sinusitis: Bacteria invade the sinus spaces making them inflamed and infected.
- Pneumonia and bronchitis: These severe bacterial infections of the lungs that can cause lasting ill effects on the baby’s health.
Cold’s complications affect only 5-10% of babies. And, cold is always preventable through simple precautions.
How Do I Prevent Cold In My Infant?
Preventing cold in babies is easy if you follow these measures:
- Keep the baby away from people with cold: Cold always spreads from an infected person to a healthy individual. If someone in the house or neighborhood has cold, cough, or flu, then keep the baby away from them. If the baby’s siblings have cold, then ask them to use a handkerchief whenever they sneeze or cough, and wash hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after it.
- Wash hands before handling the baby: Cold viruses can stay dormant on everyday objects, and while adults may not immediately contract them, a baby can easily develop an infection. Wash hands before handling the baby especially when you have just come from outdoors. Keep hands clean when you handle the baby’s personal items such as toys and clothes.
- Clean the baby’s hands after outdoor play: Your curious baby may have grabbed or held something that could potentially contain the cold virus. Therefore, every time you return from a stroll, wash the baby’s hands with a baby-safe, disinfectant soap as infants tend to put their hands in their mouth.
- Clean the toys and pacifiers: Use a clean sponge soaked in warm saline water to wipe the baby’s toys and pacifiers clean. It removes germs from these objects and avoids infection when the baby puts the objects in his mouth.
- Avoid crowded places: The season for common cold starts around late August and goes until the end of April (19). Avoid taking the baby to crowded places such as overcrowded beaches or shopping malls during these months. Colds can happen anytime, but staying extra cautious during the peak season helps minimize the risks.
- Get a flu vaccine: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US, recommends vaccinating a baby older than six months against influenza (flu) (20). Usually, a baby would require a flu shot twice a year with the dosage decreasing to once in a year as the little one grows older. Your baby’s doctor can decide if the baby should get two doses or one.
Working on prevention is the only way to protect newborns, who cannot have conventional medications and are ineligible for vaccination (21). Incorporate the preventive measures in your daily routine to keep cold at bay.
Read on as we answer questions associated with cold in babies.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it normal for babies to get cold repeatedly?
Yes! It is okay even if the baby has about ten colds every year for the first two years of his life. The baby’s first cold can happen as early as a week after birth. An infant’s immune system is still developing immunity against various cold viruses. Each phase of cold infection strengthens the his immunity by several notches.
2. How do I differentiate the baby’s cold from other conditions?
- If it is cold and flu, then the baby may have vomiting and diarrhea, which is not the case if it is cold alone.
- Cold closely resembles allergies, but in the case of allergies, the baby will also show other symptoms such as facial swelling and skin hives.
Since cold can be tricky to spot, experts recommend taking the baby to a doctor at the slightest signs of cold-like symptoms. It helps in an accurate diagnosis of the condition.
3. Why is there no cure for common cold?
Cold viruses are excellent at changing the chemical composition of their outer shell, making it difficult for a definitive antibody to tackle the virus (22). Still, with adequate time and support, the body can neutralize the virus and retain the antibody to thwart future attacks of the virus.
4. What is cold incubation period in babies?
The incubation period is the phase between the contraction of a pathogen and the appearance of symptoms. The period varies as per the cold-inducing pathogen. The rhinovirus (common cold virus) has an incubation period of just eight to ten hours while a coronavirus (SARS virus) can take a week to become active (23) (24).
5. How long does a cold last in babies?
It varies for different pathogens. Rhinovirus-caused cold goes away in ten days while cold from coronavirus can take several weeks to cure.
6. Can a baby catch a cold from breastfeeding?
No. The cold virus does not pass through breastmilk; therefore, a mother with cold can breastfeed her baby. Moreover, a mother passes on antibodies to the baby through breastmilk and helps build his passive immunity. However, it is highly recommended that lactating mothers wear a facemask while breastfeeding to prevent the transmission of pathogens through sneezing and coughing (25). Medical and government agencies recommend breastfeeding even when both the baby and the mother suffer from cold (26) (27).
Common cold may seem harsh on the baby and tough on parenting. However, when dealt with patience and proper care, the baby would recover soon. As the infant grows, he develops a robust immunity, making cold a lesser concern for both the parents and the little one.
Have any tips to share on preventing or treating cold? Then tell us in the comments section.