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'How do I know if it is more than a cold?': Winter family health advice

Dr Su Laurent from the Royal Free Hospital gives us some advice on colds, flu and where to seek help if you suspect more

Posted: 27 October 2015
by Catherine Hudson

Concerned? Seek further advice

What are the signs of cold with a baby or young child?

Young children get colds quite often because their immune system is still developing. The symptoms of a cold are generally similar in adults and children, including a blocked or runny nose, sneezing and a slightly high temperature (fever).

What can I do to help while my baby is unwell?

When your child has a cold or flu it’s important to make sure they get plenty of rest and plenty of fluids. You can also help make their breathing easier by raising the pillow end of your child's bed or cot. Keep the room aired and at a comfortable temperature, and don't let your child get too hot – cover them with a lightweight sheet, for example.

How do I know when to seek help from a doctor?

While there are often many ways you can help manage your child’s illness at home, it is also important to know when to seek advice from a healthcare professional. There are a number of worrying signs that can indicate a serious problem, including: A high-pitched, weak or continuous cry, a temperature of over 38C (100.4F) for a baby less than three months old, or over 39C (102.2F) for a baby aged three to six months old, difficulty breathing, fast breathing, grunting while breathing, or if your child is working hard to breathe – for example, sucking their stomach in under their ribs. Above all, trust your instincts. You know better than anyone else what your child is usually like, so you’ll know what is worrying behaviour.

How can I tell if it’s something more serious than a cold?

One in three infants will develop bronchiolitis (a viral lung infection) before their first birthday. The symptoms are similar to those of a common cold, such as a runny nose and cough. Bronchiolitis is an infection in the lower airways affecting babies and young children and is more common during the winter months. The airways in the lungs become infected and inflamed so the amount of air entering the lungs is reduced, making it more difficult to breathe.

Most children with bronchiolitis have mild symptoms which include: A slight high temperature (fever), a dry and persistent raspy cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing). For more severe case of bronchiolitis, when medical help may be required, children may show the following symptoms: Struggling to breathe, poor feeding (your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds), no wet nappy for 12 hours or more, a breathing rate of 50-60 breaths per minute, a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above, they seem very tired or irritable.

Is there anything I can do to help protect my children against winter bugs?

There are some simple steps you can take to help your little one reduce the risk of bugs this winter:

o   Wash your hands regularly with soap and water - especially before you touch the baby. Make sure siblings and visitors wash their hands too

o   Cover your child's nose and mouth when they cough or sneeze

o   Try to keep away from other children and adults who show signs of a cough or cold

o   Wash or wipe toys regularly to prevent the spread of germs

o   Ensure your baby is kept away from tobacco smoke. Never allow anyone to smoke around your baby

The More Than a Cold campaign provides practical advice for parents and healthcare professionals about bronchiolitis and how to reduce the risks. 


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Dr Su Laurent, Royal Free Hospital, advice, winter, health, cold, flu, children, kids, sneezing, germs, diagnosis, doctor, More Than a Cold, bronchiolitis

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