Health advice
Childhood cold and flu
Child sneezing into a tissue

Childhood cold and flu are common viruses in children. Learn how to manage them at home and when you may need advice from a pharmacist or GP.

What is a cold?

Colds are very common. As your child starts to socialise with other children, you may find that they get more colds than usual.

Children can have several colds in a year, but as their immune system develops, they will become less frequent. However, as their immune system develops, they will get fewer colds.1,2

The main symptoms of a cold are:

  • A high temperature of 37.9 °C or higher
  • Coughing
  • A runny or blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Breathlessness
  • A sore throat.2,3
  • Colds can last for 5 to 14 days.2

    What is the flu?

    The flu (influenza) is a viral infection that has similar symptoms to a cold but can make people feel very unwell.4

    The flu can cause:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhoea or stomach ache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ear pain
  • Muscle and joint pain.4,5
  • The flu may take longer to recover from than a cold. It can take over 2 weeks for your child to recover from the flu.4

    What does cold and flu look like in a baby?

    If your baby catches a cold or the flu, they may have the following symptoms:

  • A high temperature (37.9 °C or more)
  • Feeding less than normal
  • Breathlessness
  • Coughing
  • Having fewer wet and dirty nappies due to dehydration.3
  • You should call your GP or 111 if your baby has any of the above symptoms or any symptoms you are worried about.3

    What should I do if my child has cold or flu?

    Most of the time, cold and flu can be treated at home. You should make sure your child gets a lot of rest and drinks plenty of water.2

    You can also talk to your local pharmacist about paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat your child’s temperature and aches and pains.

    Some children with asthma cannot take ibuprofen so it is always best to check with a pharmacist before giving your child medicine.2

    You can speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines you can use to help ease your child’s blocked nose and cough.

    If your child is aged 3 months or older and has a temperature of 39°C or more, contact your GP or 111.3

    You should keep your child off school until they are feeling better (or have not had a temperature for 24 hours) to help stop the spread of infection.3

    If you are worried about the health of your child, your GP or 111 are always there to help advise you on how best to look after your child.

    Cold and flu usually gets better at home after a few days. But if your child develops any of these symptoms, call 999 immediately:

  • A stiff neck or rash that doesn’t fade
  • Sensitivity to light and very cold hands and feet
  • Blue, pale and blotchy skin and tongue
  • High-pitched cry that is not usual for them
  • Is difficult to wake and seems confused
  • Is agitated and struggling to breathe.6
  • Visit your nearest pharmacy

    Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacy.

    Where can I get more information and support?

    NHS Inform

    Information for people living in Scotland

    NHS Website

    Information about cold and flu, including symptoms, managing illness at home and when to seek advice from a medical professional.

    1. Common childhood illnesses and wellbeing. Accessed August 10, 2023.
    2. Colds, coughs and ear infections in children. Published December 7, 2020. Accessed August 10, 2023.

    3. If your child has cold or flu symptoms. Accessed August 10, 2023.
    4. Influenza (seasonal). Accessed August 11, 2023.
    5. Flu. Published October 23, 2017. Accessed August 14, 2023.
    6. High temperature (fever) in children. Published October 24, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2023.

    Published: September 2023

    Next review: September 2026

    Reviewer: Mital Thakrar

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