Coughs, Colds and Flu

A cough, cold or flu is unpleasant in adults and it can be hard to watch your baby suffer, but rest assured that none of these conditions last for very long and there are lots of things you can do to help your baby feel better while they are unwell.

Coughing in Babies

A dry cough is caused by swelling of the airways and is usually a sign of flu. A chesty cough is caused by baby trying to clear his lungs of mucus, and the most likely cause of this is the common cold.

? Other more serious causes include bronchitis and pneumonia. If baby’s cough seems severe, baby is very unwell or it continues for more than a few days, see your doctor to rule out any more serious conditions.

? If baby is making wheezing noises or seems breathless, this might indicate asthma.

? TB (tuberculosis) is very rare in UK now. It primarily affects the lungs and causes mucus which may be blood streaked, breathlessness, fever and loss of appetite.

? Croup is a hard, dry barking cough, usually worse at night.

? Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial infection, distinguished by a ?whooping? noise on inhalation and a very severe cough unlike any other your baby has had before.

What You Can Do To Help

Pharmacies sell a variety of children’s cough medicines, but these only soothe the symptoms and sometimes only for a very short time. Always check with your doctor before you give your baby any of these. There are more practical things you can do at home which will help at least as much as over-the-counter cough medicine:

? If baby’s sleep is disturbed by coughing, raise the head of the bed by placing a pillow or a rolled up towel under the mattress, so that baby is sleeping on an incline. This can give great relief and allow better sleep.

? Offer plenty of fluids. Breast milk will help fight off the cough and soothe a sore throat whereas cow’s milk may increase mucus. Water may help, but avoid fruit juice in case baby has a sore throat.

? For a chesty cough, run the hot taps in the bathroom with the door closed tight, to allow steam to build up. Keep baby in the steam for 15-20 mins at a time.

Medical Help

Most coughs clear up quickly but sometimes you need medical advice. Call your doctor in the event of:

? A persistent cough of more than 2 weeks duration

? A dry hacking cough

? Bad smelling green, yellow or brown mucus being produced

? Baby having any trouble breathing

? Loss of appetite

? Cough getting worse instead of better


Most babies get about 7 colds in their first year, which usually clear up quickly. Caused by a virus, the cold does not respond to antibiotics. Symptoms include puffiness in lymph nodes (under arms), loss of appetite, fever, redness and a heavy look in the eyes, runny nose, chesty cough, irritability. It should clear up within 10 days, meanwhile, try:

? Plenty of rest

? Plenty of fluids

? Steam may help clear a stuffy nose.

? Paracetamol or ibuprofen for a fever (over 3 months old)

? Nasal saline drops before feeding

? Vapour rub on back and chest, or capsules on pillow.


Symptoms include runny nose, chills, sleepiness, irritability, headache and a dry cough. Flu will usually clear in around 5 days, although a cough may hang on a bit longer. It is caused by a virus so again, antibiotics do not help. Sleep, plenty of fluids, paracetamol for temperature in babies over 3 months, is all the treatment required. Medical help should be sought if symptoms get worse or don?t clear quickly, or further symptoms develop, such as trouble breathing, rash, earache or dehydration. Also, seek medical advice if baby seems to recover from flu and then relapses, as this may signify an infection.

As with any illness, you should always seek medical advice if you are concerned at any time about your baby.

The HSE has a very informative site called ‘Under The Weather’ that gives plenty of information about how to manage common illnesses.

If you are concerned about your childs health, always seek medical advice.