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Treating Viral Respiratory Illness in Children

Viral respiratory illnesses include colds, the flu, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). 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 see your child’s healthcare provider if your child has trouble breathing.

Mother comforting daughter.

Helping your child feel better

  • Give 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. Use a rubber bulb suction device to remove mucus as needed. Don't be aggressive when suctioning. This may cause more swelling and discomfort.

  • Raise 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.

  • Don't let anyone smoke near your child.

  • Treat your child’s fever with acetaminophen. In infants 6 months or older, you may use ibuprofen 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 syndrome.

When to seek medical care

Most children get over colds and flu on their own in time, with rest and care from you. Call your child's healthcare provider 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, or 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 cough, a cough that doesn't get better, wheezing, or trouble breathing

  • Has bad or increasing pain

  • Develops a skin rash

  • Is very tired or lethargic

  • Develops a blue color to the skin around the lips or on the fingers or toes

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Images Reviewed by Staywell medical art team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2017
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