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Childhood Illnesses

Coughs, Colds & Bronchiolitis

Babies and children often get a lot of coughs and colds - around 8 a year! As they get older and their immune system gets stronger, the number of coughs and colds will get less.

Colds and most coughs are caused by a virus. Most colds last for 5-7 days, but the cough can hang around for longer.

Coughs are often caused by secretions (snot) dripping down the back of the throat, especially when they are not old enough to blow their nose well. You can sometimes hear this as a ‘snotty rattling’ noise in small children’s throats.

It's hard to see your child feeling poorly and colds can make them feel really miserable. Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment for a cold. Antibiotics don't work on viruses like colds, and your child will not need to see a doctor.

You can help stop the germs spreading by making sure everyone is washing their hands well. Have lots of tissues and make sure dirty ones go straight in the bin.


Bronchiolitis (Bron-key-o-li-tis)

If your baby or child has a cold or cough that goes on for a while and their breathing seems noisier or faster than usual, your GP may tell you they have bronchiolitis. This is caused by a viral infection. The most common infection that causes this is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), so your doctor may call it RSV instead.

It is easy to catch this virus, so many children (particularly the under 2's) might catch it every year or have it more than once in a year. This is most likely to happen in the winter months. 

There is no specific treatment for RSV and most children will start to get better after 3 or 4 days. They may have a cough for some time. You can often care for your child at home while they have this viral illness, but you will need to get more medical advice if it does not get better or gets worse.

If your child has symptoms of a cough or cold, is breathing more quickly or noisily and having difficulty feeding or you are worried, contact your GP. They will be able to advise and confirm if your child has bronchiolitis.

Dive Deeper

How to Make Your Child Feel Better

Whilst a cold has to run its course, there are things you can do to help your child feel better.

  • Take time for cuddles. You might find your child wants you extra close for comfort.
  • Make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids to keep hydrated. (Don’t worry if they don’t feel very hungry for a few days).
  • Warm baths and warm drinks can help stuffy noses and be relaxing before bed.
  • Give children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen. You can talk to your pharmacist about this.
  • Try saline nose drops or sprays to help your child breathe more easily – ask your pharmacist for details.

Comfort at Night

Coughs that can come with along with a cold, can cause sleepless nights for all.

  • If your child is under 1 year old - try propping up the legs of the cot at the head end on a couple of big books. This can help any irritating secretions drain away.
  • If your child is older than 1 - you can try an extra pillow to prop them up.
  • Have a drink close by.
  • Use Vaseline on sore noses and lips.

If your child has a pre-existing condition, like asthma, keep giving any prescribed medication. If you are worried that their symptoms are getting worse call 111 for advice.

When to Get Further Advice

Call 111 for advice if your child has a;

  • High temperature (more than 38 degrees) that has not got better by giving paracetamol or ibuprofen as directed.
  • They are not drinking fluids and are not having wees / wet nappies.
  • A low temperature (less than 35.5) and they seem quiet and/or unusually sleepy.
  • Are being sick after all feeds or drinks. 
  • You have a strong sense that your child is ‘too poorly’ for it to be ‘just’ a cough or cold.

Most children bounce back from coughs and colds quite quickly. You know your child best if you are feeling worried than ask for advice from your pharmacy, 111 or GP.

Helpful Videos 


Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

Boloh - Are you are a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic parent wanting to know more about chest infections? The Boloh helpline can help provide you with advice and guidance on what to do if your child has a chest infection.

Call 0800 151 2605 or visit https://helpline.barnardos.org.uk

They can provide a service in English, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Polish, Luganda, Ruyankole, Rukiga, Rutooro and Kinyarwanda. Interpreters can also be provided for other languages. 

If you have decided to keep smoke free around your child - which is especially important for children with Asthma. You can contact Smokefree Norfolk for help and advice.

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App- This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below.

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