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Cough and Cold

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Coughs and colds are very common in young children.  It is normal for a child to have 8 or more colds a year.  Most colds get better in 5 to 7 days but can take up to 2 weeks in small children.

  • Coughing is the body's natural way of clearing infection
  • Most of these are likely to be caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not help treat viruses (and can result in side effects such as rash and diarrhoea, as well as increasing the risk of them developing antibiotic resistance)
  • Having green snot or a noisy chest does not mean that your child has an infection requiring antibiotics
  • It can sometimes be harder to identify the cause of a cough. In general, if your child also has a  runny nose, red eyes, ear pain or a wheeze, it is far more likely to be viral infection. Noisy chests are also common in young children with viral infections.
When should I get help?




What should I do?
  • Give your child plenty of fluid (lots to drink) to keep them well hydrated. If your child is over 6 months of age and is not not eating make sure that you offer them milk or sugary drinks
  • Most children with coughs/colds do not need treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics rarely speed up recovery. They can cause side effects such as rash and diarrhoea. They will also promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your child.
  • You can try giving your child paracetamol (calpol) and/or ibuprofen - cough syrup does not tend to help with coughs.
  • You can try using saline nose drops or spray if your baby has a blocked nose.
  • For children over 1 year, a spoon of honey (perhaps in a warm drink) half an hour before bed may help them to wake less often in the night.
  • For children over 2 years, vapour rubs (containing camphor, menthol and/or eucalyptus) may help children sleep better.
  • Make sure the whole family wash their hands regularly to stop the virus spreading
How long will my child’s symptoms last?
  • Unfortunately, coughs and colds can be there for weeks before they get better.  Over the winter, children are likely to get one viral infection after another, which can make you think that they are never well. Things will get better in the summer months!
  • Having a cough for 2 or 3 weeks does not mean that your child needs antibiotics.
  • You should see a doctor if your child was getting better but then gets worse.
  • These charts show how long coughs and colds last in children. The faces below represent 10 children who have seen their GP with a cough or cold. Green faces are those children who have recovered within that time period.

The diagrams are taken from

Where should I get help?
Self Care

For wear and tear, minor trips and everything in between.


You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when needed. Use any medicines recommended by your pharmacist or doctor. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can get better from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly. It is important to get further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

More information on common childhood illnesses.

Local Pharmacist

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare. They are the first port of call for minor ailments and can provide advice and medication (if needed) for a wide range of long term conditions and common ailments including coughs and colds.

Pharmacy First is a free service. You do not need an appointment and many pharmacies have a private consultation area.

Your pharmacist will let you know if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  1. Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP.
  2. Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately.
  3. Help your child to understand - watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy.
Health Visitor

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who promote healthy lifestyle and prevent illness through the Universal Health Visiting Pathway. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Your health visitor may be able to refer you on to other health professionals, for example if there are hearing or vision concerns.

Contact them by phoning your local health visiting team.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

GP (General Practitioner)
GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  1. Doctors/GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to the Emergency Department.
  2. For minor injuries such as cuts that need stitches, broken bones, sprains and minor burns in children aged 5 or over, go to one of our Minor Injury Units (MIU). 
NHS 24
If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 24 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

Emergency Department
Emergency departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to the Emergency Department and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to the Emergency Department or riding in an ambulance

Content adapted with permission from the resource produced by the Healthier Together initiative


Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 22 September 2022

Next review: 22 August 2025

Reviewer Name(s): Dr Morag Wilson; Dr Geetika Kumar