How are common colds in babies treated?

There is no cure for the common cold. Most colds go away on their own after about seven to 10 days and do not turn into something more serious.

Antibiotics cannot be used to treat colds. Sometimes, children may develop complications from bacteria, such as an ear infection or pneumonia, and antibiotics may then be used to treat these illnesses. Do not give the baby over-the-counter cough and cold medicines unless the doctor prescribes it.

To treat a common cold in babies:

  • Keep the baby comfortable.
  • Give the baby fluids. For babies 6 months or younger, let them drink breast milk or formula. At 6 months, the baby can also have some water.
  • Let the baby get plenty of rest.

Since most babies cannot blow their nose until about age 4, these methods may help ease the baby's stuffy nose:

  • Use saline and suction. About 15 minutes before a feeding, use some over-the-counter saline (salt water) drops to loosen up the mucus in the baby’s nostrils. Suction out the liquid and mucus a few minutes later with rubber bulb. This will clear the mucus out of the baby’s nose and allow the baby to breathe and suck at the same time.
  • Dab petroleum jelly on the outside of the baby's nostrils to reduce irritation. Do not block the inside of the baby’s nostrils. (Unless the doctor recommends it, do not use nasal sprays on the baby. They may work for a bit, but will make the congestion worse with continued use.)
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer to moisten the air in the baby's room. The clean, cool mist will help moisten the air and decrease the drying of the baby’s nasal passages and throat. Clean and dry the humidifier thoroughly before using it to get rid of bacteria or mold that may have collected in the device. Do not use hot-water vaporizers because of the risk of burns.
  • Sit with the baby in a steamy room. If a humidifier is not available, an adult can take the baby into the bathroom, turn on the hot water, close the door, and sit together in the steamy room for about 15 minutes. Do not leave the baby alone in the room. Be safe around water. Giving the baby a warm bath may also work.

Babies can continue their normal activities, if they seem well enough to do so. If they have fever or complications, it is best to keep them at home.

If the baby is in daycare, tell the caregiver about any symptoms that the baby has. Be sure to make a plan on who will be available to stay home with the baby if the baby is ill.

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

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