If your child has cold or flu symptoms

Viral infections like cold and flu are very common in babies and children and most will make a full recovery without needing treatment. There are some things you can do to help them feel better.

Immediate action required: Phone 999 or go to A&E if your child:

  • stops breathing or has pauses in their breathing
  • has severe difficulty breathing, such as grunting or noisy breathing
  • looks seriously unwell - for example very pale, grey, or white, or has mottling (pale patchy skin with a purple tinge) on their arms, legs or body
  • isn’t showing normal colour of skin, lips and tongue – very pale, blue or purple
  • isn’t awake and can't be wakened, or is very difficult to waken
  • is breathing very rapidly, even when resting and when not upset or crying

Always trust your instincts and phone 999 if you think there's an emergency.

Cold and flu symptoms in babies

The most common cold and flu symptoms in babies are: 

  • fever of 37.5°C or above
  • breathlessness
  • rapid breathing
  • cough
  • not taking usual feeds
  • not having their usual wet or dirty nappies

Urgent advice: Phone your GP or, if your GP's closed, phone 111 if:

  • your baby is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 38 °C or above
  • your child is aged 3 months or older and has a temperature of 39 °C or above
  • your baby has fewer wet nappies, nappies that seem drier than usual, or a dry nappy for 12 hours or more
  • your baby's having difficulty feeding
  • your baby's taking less than half their usual amount during their last 2 or 3 feeds
  • you think your baby may have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms

If you're very concerned about your baby, trust your instincts and phone your GP or 111 for advice, or 999 in an emergency.

Cold and flu symptoms in children

The most common cold and flu symptoms in children are:

  • fever of 37.9°C or above
  • breathlessness
  • rapid breathing
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • blocked nose
  • sneezing

If your child is alert and playing and behaving normally it's unlikely that they're seriously ill.

Urgent advice: Phone your GP or, if your GP's closed, phone 111 if your toddler or child:

  • has a temperature above 39°C
  • has fewer wet nappies or nappies that seem drier than usual
  • isn't getting better after a few days

If you're very concerned about your child trust your instincts and phone your GP or 111 for advice.

Treatment of cold and flu symptoms

There's no specific treatment for a cold or flu but there are some things you can do to make your child more comfortable.

Do

  • use infant paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • only use over the counter remedies recommended by your pharmacist
  • encourage your child to drink more fluids

Don't

  • try to reduce your child’s fever by undressing them
  • sponge your child with water
  • give aspirin to children under 16
  • give honey to babies under 1

Most children will make a full recovery without any medical treatment.

Use our self help guide for fever in babies

More about fever in children

Possible causes of cold and flu symptoms

The most common causes of cold and flu symptoms in children are viral infections including:

  • respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • influenza (flu)
  • rhinovirus
  • adenovirus

There are several others but these are the most common. Most of the time these viruses don't lead to serious illness.

There are some conditions which can cause cold and flu symptoms and may require further treatment, such as:

  • pneumonia
  • tonsillitis in toddlers and older children

Who's most at risk?

Babies and children born with the following health conditions may be more at risk of serious infection:

  • congenital heart disease where a baby is born with a heart condition
  • babies born with narrowing of the airways or other respiratory disease
  • babies born prematurely

Preventing the spread of colds and flu

To reduce the risk of getting or spreading cold or flu you should:

  • make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water
  • clean surfaces (such as your telephone and door handles) regularly to get rid of germs
  • put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible
  • keep your child at home until they're feeling better (without fever for 24 hours without infant paracetamol or ibuprofen)