What you need to know

  • A healthy child can get several colds a year and usually they'll improve with rest at home.
  • It's important to make sure your child drinks lots of fluids and practises proper hygiene when they're sick.
  • Colds are viral, so antibiotics won't help your little one feel better.
  • If you are worried about your child, or they are getting sicker, call PlunketLine or your family doctor.


There are over 200 different viruses that can cause colds. Colds spread through the air when a person sneezes or coughs, or from droplets on surfaces. 


Cold symptoms vary, but can include:

  • scratchy or sore throat 
  • cough
  • sneezing and a runny or blocked nose 
  • watery eyes 
  • blocked ears 
  • slight fever (37.2 to 37.8°C) 
  • tiredness 
  • headache.

A cold is different from the flu, which usually develops faster, and their symptoms may be worse. Assess your child’s symptoms and decide whether you need to visit a doctor. 


If your child is doing okay at home (drinking and feeding well, interacting with you, and doesn’t look sick) you can keep them comfortable at home. Your little one may want to be with you more and need more cuddles. They may be less interested in playing and wake more from sleep during the day and night.   

Clearing a blocked nose 

If your baby has a blocked nose or is sniffly:

  • use cooled boiled water nose drops – they can help make the mucus moist and then it’s easier for your child to sneeze it out. 
  • put one drop in each nostril every four hours, using a nose dropper or by squeezing a drop from a clean cloth. 
  • you can do this before feeding to help your baby breath during feedings. 

Eating and drinking 

Many kids won’t want to eat much when they have a cold. That’s okay – getting them to drink is more important.

  • Your baby may wake more often and have smaller feeds. 
  • Older children may not want to drink much, but you can try offering small drinks often to make sure they stay hydrated, or iceblocks. 

Teaching your child proper hygiene 

If your child is old enough, you can teach them a few things to avoid spreading their cold to other whānau and friends: 

  • cough or sneeze into their elbow 
  • wash their hands after sneezing or blowing their nose, for at least 20 seconds 
  • dry hands thoroughly with a paper towel.

When to visit a doctor  

See a doctor if your child has a cold and:

  • is under three months old, as young babies can get sick quickly 
  • is wheezing or having difficulty breathing 
  • has a chesty cough 
  • isn't feeding or drinking well or is having trouble swallowing 
  • is unusually sleepy  
  • has a sore throat or joint pain 
  • is drinking less than half of their normal breastmilk or other fluid 
  • is having fewer than normal wet nappies or is weeing less often than normal  
  • has very dark wee or their wee has blood in it 
  • has vomited half or more of their feed for the last three feeds 
  • has diarrhoea
  • is crying more than normal or in pain 
  • cries, grizzles and pulls or rubs their ears 
  • has a runny ear 
  • is getting sicker. 

Take your child to the doctor urgently if they:

  • look unwell and you are concerned 
  • are very pale or feels cold to touch 
  • are floppy, sleepy or drowsy 
  • are becoming less responsive 
  • have an unusual high-pitched cry 
  • have trouble breathing, has noisy breathing or is breathing fast 
  • complain of, or has a stiff neck or light hurts their eyes 
  • have a severe headache 
  • refuse to drink - even small sips 
  • are not doing wees 
  • vomit frequently and can’t keep fluids down
  • vomit green fluid (bile) or blood 
  • have black tar-like poo or blood in their poo
  • are in severe pain 
  • are not interested in their surroundings (lethargic). 

If you don’t know what to do or need help and advice, call PlunketLine. Our registered nurses are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you and your whānau.