Colds in babies: When should you see your doctor?
Your baby is grizzly and has had a temperature of 38.5°C or 39°C for two or three days. His nose is blocked or running, he’s coughing, wheezing and off his food. What do you do? The most important thing is to clear your baby’s airways correctly and regularly with a nasal aspirator or spray. Antipyretics and baths can be used to bring down a temperature. To make sure your baby’s mouth doesn’t dry out while he’s asleep, it’s a good idea to use a humidifier or place a bowl of water next to the radiator in his room. However, there are some cases where babies need more than just home remedies. Read on for how to tell when you should take your baby to the doctor’s.
If your baby is 3 months or under
In theory, newborns are protected by the antibodies from the mother and won’t get colds for their first three months. In practice, however, young babies can sometimes get infections. We don’t know exactly why. Viral infections and vasomotor symptoms are the main problems. Mucous lining the nasopharynx can cause a runny nose and stuffiness.
As ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Briac Thierry explains, “Even newborns who are breastfed and healthy can catch colds. Rhinitis in newborns sometimes occurs just after leaving the maternity ward. This can cause parents concern, especially when your baby can’t breathe properly. The younger the baby, the more of problem the cold will be. Breathing with a blocked nose will use up a lot of energy, so your baby will end up exhausted, cry and scream to stimulate air flow.”
Babies sometimes suffer from a fever, obstructed breathing and a cough if the nose or runny or blocked. Your baby won’t want to feed, and this will inhibit growth as a result. If this happens, you need to take your baby to the doctor. There are effective ways to clear a baby’s nose. Using a physiological serum to unblock babies’ noses is sometimes not enough. Doctors may need to use hypertonic saline solution. If, despite these treatments, baby is still having trouble breathing, you may be referred to an ENT specialist at the hospital who might prescribe adrenaline.
If baby is older than three months but is suffering repeated infections
You need to unblock both the nose and sinuses (nasopharyngeal unblocking) regularly several times a day. Turn your baby’s head to one side and clean each nostril with a small amount of physiological serum using a baby nasal aspirator. This will relieve symptoms and avoid complications. As soon as possible, you need to teach children to clear their nasal passageways by breathing through one nostril while pinching the other. Humidifying air in your baby’s room and airing it will also help.
For nursing babies who are coping well with a cold, there’s no point rushing to the doctor’s. Fevers and significant nasal discharge aren’t enough in themselves to justify a course of antibiotics straight away. For viral infections, antibiotics won’t reduce the troublesome symptoms or their duration. If baby’s mucus is yellow or green, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s pus. These are mostly just nasal secretions containing dead epithelial cells.
Whatever your baby’s age, you should call a doctor if the following symptoms appear:
- A fever of 38.5°C or 39°C that lasts longer than three days.
- A fever of above 38°C AND convulsions, or a history of hyperthermic convulsions.
- A fever that appears or reappears three or four days after the cold came on.
- Breathing difficulties that last longer than ten days, with a cough and runny or blocked nose, if the condition doesn’t improve.
- Signs of an eye infection.
- Swollen eyelids.
- Evidence of ear scratching or discharge from the ears.
- Behavioural changes such as irritability, crying and not sleeping.
- Diarrhoea, vomiting or not eating.
Dr Sophie Parienté