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.

CAUSES

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.

SYMPTOMS

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.

DIAGNOSIS

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.

TREATMENT

  • 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.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • 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.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • 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.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • 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.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your child's condition.

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