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What Causes Colds in Children and When Should Parents Worry?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 15, 2023

What Causes Colds in Children and When Should Parents Worry?

It’s not that surprising for our kids to wake up one day and come to us sniffling because of colds. What causes colds in children, and how can we help them recover from it quickly? Find out here.

The Many “Faces” of Colds

When someone tells us that they have colds, we immediately understand what they mean. However, we need to remember that our experiences with colds vary.

Some kids will come to us with nothing but a few sniffles as they go on their way, studying and playing. Other children, however, complain of many things, including:

  • A runny nose
  • Nasal congestion or clogged nose, which may or may not have a nasal discharge
  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Cough
  • Fever

But, what exactly causes colds in children?

What Causes Colds in Children?

If kids turn up with colds, the most likely reason is a respiratory infection, probably a viral one. The following conditions may lead to colds in kids:

  • The Common Cold – Kids who develop colds most probably have a common cold caused by a virus. Many viruses can cause the common cold, but the most common are rhinoviruses.
  • Influenza – Another viral respiratory infection that leads to colds is the flu; if your child has the flu, he or she might also complain of headaches, body aches, and fever.
  • Sinus infection – A sinus infection occurs when fluids build up in the supposedly air-filled packets of the face (sinus), allowing germs to thrive. Allergies, previous common cold infections, and exposure to irritants may trigger a sinus infection.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus – RSV is another type of respiratory virus, and in most cases, it only results in common cold-like symptoms. However, it can be severe in infants and older adults.
  • Allergies – Does your little one experience allergies such as allergic rhinitis? If so, he or she may also exhibit cold symptoms. Usually, colds due to allergies come suddenly and with other symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, and itchy nose.


Intervention depends on what causes colds in children. For instance, if it’s allergic rhinitis, then your little one probably needs anti-allergy medications.

If the cause is viral, they only usually need home remedies unless their symptoms require supportive care such as acetaminophen for fever and body aches (flu) or a decongestant for sinus infection.

For common cold in kids, consider the following measures:

  1. Encourage adequate rest and make your child as comfortable as possible.
  2. Offer plenty of fluids like water, warm soup, and apple juice.
  3. Give them small, frequent nutritious meals.
  4. For kids aged 6 and older, offer cough drops to soothe sore throat. Gargles will help too.
  5. Check your child’s temperature and bring them to the doctor if they have a fever of 38 C or higher. The same thing goes if they have a repeated fever of 40 C.
  6. For nasal congestion, consider saline (saltwater) nasal drops/sprays.
  7. Keep kids at home until they are fever-free for 24 hours.
  8. To help them sleep at night, elevate their head on a propped up pillow, and try using a cool-mist humidifier.
  9. Avoid exposure to irritants such as tobacco smoke and dust.
  10. For rawness of the throat, thinly apply petroleum jelly under the nose.
  11. Give them a warm bath.
  12. Consider steam inhalation (or take a warm shower to have a steam-filled bathroom).

And finally, be careful with medications. Children younger than 6 years should not be given cough and cold medicines unless approved by the doctor. For fever, make sure that you only use children’s-strength drugs. Do not give aspirin to children 19 years and younger.

what causes colds in children

When to Seek Medical Help

In most cases, you don’t need to bring kids to the doctor for a common cold, as the symptoms will eventually get better and disappear within a week or two. However, bring them to the doctor if they:

  • Wouldn’t drink fluids or eat
  • Are unusually weak or tired
  • Have fast or noisy breathing
  • Have a fever that doesn’t improve in 2 days
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Are coughing up a lot of mucus
  • Earache

Moreover, bring them to the hospital immediately if they:

  • Appear pale and sleepy.
  • Are having difficulty breathing or look like they are breathing faster than usual.
  • Complain of severe headache.
  • Are younger than 3 months old and developed a fever.
  • Exhibit rashes that don’t disappear when you press them with a glass of cold water.

Remember: don’t hesitate to bring them to the doctor if you are worried that their condition is not just a common cold. Likewise, seek medical help if their symptoms are not improving.


What causes colds in children? If it’s a viral infection like the common cold, you can reduce your little one’s risk by:

  • Teaching them proper and regular handwashing.
  • Practicing cough etiquette: coughing on disposable tissues or the upper part of the elbow.
  • Avoiding sharing of personal items.
  • Keeping them away from people with colds.

Learn more about the Common Signs of an Unwell Child here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 15, 2023

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