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Treating Viral Respiratory Illness in Children

Viral respiratory illnesses include colds, the flu, and RSV. Treatment will focus on relieving your child’s symptoms and ensuring that the infection does not get worse. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Always consult with a health care provider if your child has trouble breathing.

Helping your child feel better

  • Feed your child plenty of fluids, such as water or apple juice.

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.

  • Keep your infant’s nose clear, using a rubber bulb suction device to remove mucus as needed. Avoid over-aggressively suctioning as this may cause more swelling and discomfort.

  • Elevate the head of your child's bed slightly to make breathing easier.

  • Run a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in your child’s room to keep the air moist and nasal passages clear.

  • Do not allow anyone to smoke near your child.

  • Treat your child’s fever with acetaminophen (Children’s Tylenol). In infants 6 months or older, you may use ibuprofen (Children’s Motrin) instead to help reduce the fever. (Never give aspirin to a child under age 18. It could cause a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.)

When to seek medical care

Most children get over colds and flu on their own in time, with rest and care from you. If your child shows any of the following signs, he or she may need a health care provider's attention. Call the doctor if your child:

  • Has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) in a baby younger than 3 months

  • Has a repeated fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher.

  • Has nausea or vomiting; can’t keep even small amounts of liquid down.

  • Hasn’t urinated for 6 hours or more, or has dark or strong-smelling urine.

  • Has a harsh or persistent cough or wheezing; has trouble breathing.

  • Has bad or increasing pain.

  • Develops a skin rash.

  • Is very tired or lethargic.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 8/28/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.