Upper Respiratory Infection, Infant

An upper respiratory infection (URI) is the medical name for the common cold. It is an infection of the nose, throat, and upper air passages. The common cold in an infant can last from 7 to 10 days. Your infant should be feeling a bit better after the first week. In the first 2 years of life, infants and children may get 8 to 10 colds per year. That number can be even higher if you also have school-aged children at home.

ExitCare ImageSome infants get other problems with a URI. The most common problem is ear infections. If anyone smokes near your child, there is a greater risk of more severe coughing and ear infections with colds.


A URI is caused by a virus. A virus is a type of germ that is spread from one person to another.


A URI can cause any of the following symptoms in an infant:

  • Runny nose.

  • Stuffy nose.

  • Sneezing.

  • Cough.

  • Low grade fever (only in the beginning of the illness).

  • Poor appetite.

  • Difficulty sucking while feeding because of a plugged up nose.

  • Fussy behavior.

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

  • Decreased physical activity.

  • Decreased sleep.


  • 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) works against that defense.

  • 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.


  • Prop your infant's mattress up to help decrease the congestion in the nose. This may not be good for an infant who moves around a lot in bed.

  • Use saline nose drops often to keep the nose open from secretions. It works better than suctioning with the bulb syringe, which can cause minor bruising inside the child's nose. Sometimes you may have to use bulb suctioning, but it is strongly believed that saline rinsing of the nostrils is more effective in keeping the nose open. It is especially important for the infant to have clear nostrils to be able to breathe while sucking with a closed mouth during feedings.

  • Saline nasal drops can loosen thick nasal mucus. This may help nasal suctioning.

  • Over-the-counter saline nasal drops can be used. Never use nose drops that contain medications, unless directed by a medical caregiver.

  • Fresh saline nasal drops can be made daily by mixing ¼ teaspoon of table salt in a cup of warm water.

  • Put 1 or 2 drops of the saline into 1 nostril. Leave it for 1 minute, and then suction the nose. Do this 1 side at a time.

  • Offer your infant electrolyte-containing fluids, such as an oral rehydration solution, to help keep the mucus loose.

  • A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier sometimes may help to keep nasal mucus loose. If used they must be cleaned each day to prevent bacteria or mold from growing inside.

  • If needed, clean your infant's nose gently with a moist, soft cloth. Before cleaning, put a few drops of saline solution around the nose to wet the areas.

  • Wash your hands before and after you handle your baby to prevent the spread of infection.


  • Your infant's cold symptoms last longer than 10 days.

  • Your infant has a hard time drinking or eating.

  • Your infant has a loss of hunger (appetite).

  • Your infant wakes at night crying.

  • Your infant pulls at his or her ear(s).

  • Your infant's fussiness is not soothed with cuddling or eating.

  • Your infant's cough causes vomiting.

  • Your infant is older than 3 months with a rectal temperature of 100.5° F (38.1° C) or higher for more than 1 day.

  • Your infant has ear or eye drainage.

  • Your infant shows signs of a sore throat.


  • Your infant is older than 3 months with a rectal temperature of 102° F (38.9° C) or higher.

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

  • Your infant is short of breath. Look for:

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Grunting.

  • Sucking of the spaces between and under the ribs.

  • Your infant is wheezing (high pitched noise with breathing out or in).

  • Your infant pulls or tugs at his or her ears often.

  • Your infant's lips or nails turn blue.