Upper Respiratory Infection, Child

An upper respiratory infection (URI) or cold is a viral infection of the air passages leading to the lungs. A cold can be spread to others, especially during the first 3 or 4 days. It cannot be cured by antibiotics or other medicines. A cold usually clears up in a few days. However, some children may be sick for several days or have a cough lasting several weeks.


A URI is caused by a virus. A virus is a type of germ and can be spread from one person to another. There are many different types of viruses and these viruses change with each season.


A URI can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose.

  • Stuffy nose.

  • Sneezing.

  • Cough.

  • Low-grade fever.

  • Poor appetite.

  • Fussy behavior.

  • Rattle in the chest (due to air moving by mucus in the air passages).

  • Decreased physical activity.

  • Changes in sleep.


Most colds do not require medical attention. Your child's caregiver can diagnose a URI by history and physical exam. A nasal swab may be taken to diagnose specific viruses.


  • Antibiotics do not help URIs because they do not work on viruses.

  • There are many over-the-counter cold medicines. They do not cure or shorten a URI. These medicines can have serious side effects and should not be used in infants or children younger than 6 years old.

  • Cough is one of the body's defenses. It helps to clear mucus and debris from the respiratory system. Suppressing a cough with cough suppressant does not help.

  • Fever is another of the body's defenses against infection. It is also an important sign of infection. Your caregiver may suggest lowering the fever only if your child is uncomfortable.


  • Only give your child over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver. Do not give aspirin to children.

  • Use a cool mist humidifier, if available, to increase air moisture. This will make it easier for your child to breathe. Do not use hot steam.

  • Give your child plenty of clear liquids.

  • Have your child rest as much as possible.

  • Keep your child home from daycare or school until the fever is gone.


  • Your child's fever lasts longer than 3 days.

  • Mucus coming from your child's nose turns yellow or green.

  • The eyes are red and have a yellow discharge.

  • Your child's skin under the nose becomes crusted or scabbed over.

  • Your child complains of an earache or sore throat, develops a rash, or keeps pulling on his or her ear.


  • Your child has signs of water loss such as:

  • Unusual sleepiness.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Being very thirsty.

  • Little or no urination.

  • Wrinkled skin.

  • Dizziness.

  • No tears.

  • A sunken soft spot on the top of the head.

  • Your child has trouble breathing.

  • Your child's skin or nails look gray or blue.

  • Your child looks and acts sicker.

  • Your baby is 3 months old or younger with a rectal temperature of 100.4° F (38° C) or higher.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your child's condition.

  • Will get help right away if your child is not doing well or gets worse.