How do babies catch a cold?

The common cold is caused by viruses, or germs, that infect the nose, throat and sinuses.

Cold germs spread easily. Babies are continually touching things that may have germs on them, such as their noses, eyes, and mouths.

Babies also put things, such as toys, in their mouths, and touch other babies while they are playing. Cold viruses can live on objects for several hours and can be picked up on the hands of other babies who touch the same object. If a baby touches something that has cold germs on it, then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose, the germs can infect the baby.

Parents and caregivers who regularly pick up a child, change a diaper and feed the baby, can also pick up the cold virus and pass the germs to the baby.

Some cold viruses can be spread through the air when a sick baby coughs or sneezes. Droplets carrying cold germs from the cough or sneeze may reach another baby’s nose or mouth.

Why do babies get so many colds?

There are more than 100 different cold viruses. Babies have not yet built up their immune system to fight all of these germs. Before turning 2 years old, a baby can get as many as 8 to 10 colds a year. Most colds are seen in the fall and winter. That’s because children are indoors more and in close contact with other babies and caregivers who may have the cold virus.

What are the symptoms of the common cold in a baby?

Symptoms of a cold in a baby include:

  • Runny nose (the discharge may start out clear; later, it becomes thicker, and may be gray, yellow or green)
  • Sneezing
  • Fever (101-102 degrees Fahrenheit, 38.3-38.9 degrees Celsius)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased drooling because of sore throat and difficulty swallowing
  • Cough
  • Irritable
  • Slightly swollen glands

How do cold symptoms differ from flu symptoms, or some other illness?

If your child has any of the following symptoms, call your doctor. These symptoms could mean that the baby has something more serious than a cold:

  • Fever in an infant 2 months or younger
  • Difficulty breathing (especially if the baby’s nostrils widen with each breath), wheezing, fast breathing, or ribs showing with each breath
  • Blue lips
  • Not eating or drinking, possible dehydration
  • Ear pain
  • Excess crankiness or sleepiness
  • A cough that lasts more than 3 weeks
  • If the baby gets sicker

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/27/2018.

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