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Child Development & Parenting: Infants (0-2)
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Common Baby Medical Concerns - Coughs and Colds

Angela Oswalt, MSW

One of the most common communicable diseases babies can "catch" is the common cold. Originating from either a virus or bacteria, colds create symptoms of stuffy and runny noses, scratchy and sore throats, coughs, irritability, and perhaps fever. Most often, cold symptoms can be treated at home, but sometimes a doctor's assistance is needed. To care for babies with colds and coughs, make sure they are getting enough fluids, use either a vaporizer or humidifier to help moisturize and clear breathing passages, and use a bulb syringe to help clean out their noses, especially before feedings and sleep times.

If any nasal discharge is clear and the infant is behaving normally, they probably do not need to go to the doctor. However, if the discharge begins to thicken and turn green, or if the baby begins to become irritated by the cold's disruption of eating, sleeping, and playing, it's time to visit the doctor. Especially in young infants, a fever, sore ears, a severe, persistent cough that keeps baby awake and creates thick, yellow-green mucus, and puffy, discharging eyes also indicate a trip to the doctor. Sometimes coughs and colds can turn into more severe conditions, such as croup or ear infections.

Croup is a disease that creates upper respiratory distress and often creates coughs that sound like barking seals. With an ear infection, fluid is caught in the middle ear and harbors bacteria that create pus and mucus, which then place pressure on the eardrum, creating extreme pain and pressure. Babies who develop ear infections will often be cranky and irritable, resist lying down, have difficulty sleeping, cry significantly, vomit, and possibly have drainage from the ear if the eardrum ruptures. Today, some doctors monitor ear infections for a few days before they prescribe antibiotics, but often, antibiotics are needed to resolve the infection and reduce the pain and swelling in the ear. If caregivers are ever in doubt, they should call their pediatrician.