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Facts for Life

Coughs, colds and more serious illnesses

Supporting Information


A child with a cough or cold should be kept warm and encouraged to eat and drink as much as possible.

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Babies and very young children lose their body heat easily. When they have a cough or cold they should be kept covered and warm.

Children with coughs, colds, runny noses or sore throats who are breathing normally can be treated at home and will recover without medicines. They need to be kept warm, but not overheated, and to be given plenty to eat and drink. Medicines should be used only if prescribed by a trained health worker.

A child with a fever needs careful attention. She or he should be sponged or bathed with cool but not cold water. The child should be kept well hydrated with additional fluids. In areas where malaria is common, the fever could be caused by malaria, which is dangerous to the health and survival of the child. A child with a fever in these areas should be checked by a trained health worker immediately.

The nose of a child with a cough or cold should be cleared often, especially before the child eats or goes to sleep. A moist atmosphere can make breathing easier. It can help if the child breathes water vapour from a bowl of water that is hot but not boiling. The parent or other caregiver should make certain the water is not too hot and that the child is carefully supervised when breathing the water vapour.

A breastfed child who has a cough or cold may have difficulty breastfeeding. Since breastfeeding helps to fight the illness and is important for the child's growth, the mother should continue to breastfeed often. If a child cannot suckle, the breastmilk can be expressed into a clean cup and the child can then be fed from the cup by the mother, father or other caregiver. Before putting the baby to the breast or feeding the baby breastmilk (or breastmilk substitute) from a cup, it helps to clear the baby's nose if it is blocked with secretions.

Children who are 6 months of age or older should be encouraged to breastfeed, eat and drink frequently. When the illness is over, the child should be given extra nutritious foods every day until she or he is at least the same weight as before the illness.

Coughs and colds spread easily. People with coughs and colds should avoid coughing, sneezing or spitting near children. They should cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue and dispose safely of the tissue. This should be followed by hand washing with soap. This helps stop the spread of germs.

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