Viral infections and colds


What causes colds?

Most colds are caused by viruses. There are many different viruses that can infect the nose and the mouth. They are transmitted through coughing and sneezing.

On average, a primary school aged child catches 3-10 viral infections a year. Toddlers may catch more. If living with smokers, the risk of catching colds increases.

Which are the symptoms of a viral infection?

The usual symptoms are a runny nose and coughing. Coughing may get worse at night time. The child may also have a temperature, sore throat, headache, a poor appetite, and fatigue. Sometimes children vomit after an episode of coughing.

What is the treatment?

There is no magic cure. The first 2-3 days are usually the worst. Most symptoms subside in a week, while a mild cough may remain for 2-4 weeks.

Symptoms can be alleviated while the body’s immune system fights to remove the virus. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are useful for pain and fever. Give the child plenty of fluids. Various medications for coughing and a runny nose haven’t been proven to help significantly. Be aware of their contents – some of them may be dangerous! Always consult your paediatrician.

Don’t give decongestant nose drops to a child less than 2 years old. If needed, give appropriate saline solution drops.

Don’t give antibiotics. They have no impact on the viral infection, and they can make the treatment of an actual bacterial infection more difficult in the future.

When should I worry?

  • If the child is an infant less than 3-6 months old
  • If the child presents laboured or noisy breathing
  • If the child has earache
  • If the child has a persistent, high fever
  • If the child is lethargic, looking unwell
  • If the child cannot drink liquids and is becoming dehydrated
  • If you find anything else unusual or disturbing

Consult your paediatrician. An examination can be reassuring, even if a particular treatment isn’t prescribed.


Stelios Papaventsis Paediatrician ΜRCPCH DCH 2010

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