My baby’s not even a year old and has already had three or four colds. Should I be worried?
There is no need to be worried, this is very a very common reason why I see babies and children in my clinic. Colds are caused by viruses that are circulating all year round, although tend to be more common in the winter months. Toddlers can have as many as 12 colds in a year usually concentrated in winter and becoming less frequent in summer months. It can feel like one illness runs into another, with symptoms including a runny or blocked nose, sore throat, fever, coughing and sneezing. However, usually colds get better on their own, within a week. If toddlers have a persistently runny nose, this can sometimes be a symptom of hay fever.
Fighting off frequent infections isn’t a sign that your child is unhealthy in the majority of cases, but rather that they are building up a healthy immune system. Babies inherit some immunity from their mother and during the first year this wears off as babies build up their own immunity.
Very young babies may struggle a bit more even with a simple cold as they have smaller nasal passages and airways. Saline drops to the nose can help clear mucus and ease breathing in babies. As colds are caused by a virus, they usually don’t require treatment by antibiotics. Encourage your baby or toddler to drink plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated and lots of wet nappies are a reassuring sign.
It is worth buying a good thermometer to check your child’s temperature. A temperature above 37.5 C is considered a fever. In babies less than three months old, a temperature above 38 C could be a sign of a more serious infection such as a urinary tract infection or chest infection and so should always be checked by a doctor. Even with a normal temperature, if your baby has symptoms that you are concerned about such as fast or laboured breathing, drowsiness, a rash, cool hands and feet, reduced feeding and drier nappies, it is very important to see a doctor. Infant paracetamol or ibuprofen are helpful in alleviating pain and discomfort associated with colds and fever.
There is a vaccination against common strains of flu virus. Currently in the UK, this is given to all two to seven year olds at the start of the winter flu season. It is administered via a nasal spray and depending on the age of your child will be available from their GP surgery or school.
In the vast majority of cases recurrent illnesses in babies and toddlers to do not indicate an underlying problem with the immune system. A visit to your GP or paediatrician for a thorough assessment is usually all that is needed to reassure you.