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The common cold in children: Management and prevention

Diane E Pappas, MD, JD
Section Editor
Morven S Edwards, MD
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


The common cold is an acute, self-limiting viral infection of the upper respiratory tract characterized by variable degrees of sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge (rhinorrhea), sore throat, cough, low grade fever, headache, and malaise.

The management and prevention of the common cold in children will be discussed here. The epidemiology, clinical features, and diagnosis of the common cold in children and the common cold in adults are discussed separately. (See "The common cold in children: Clinical features and diagnosis" and "The common cold in adults: Diagnosis and clinical features" and "The common cold in adults: Treatment and prevention".)


The common cold is usually a mild and self-limiting viral illness, usually caused by rhinoviruses. Caregiver education is the mainstay of management [1,2] and is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) [3], the United Kingdom's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) [4,5], and British Thoracic Guidelines for the assessment and management of cough in children [6].

Antiviral therapy is not available for the viruses that cause the common cold with the exception of influenza virus. The clinical features of influenza and treatment of influenza with antiviral agents are discussed separately. (See "Seasonal influenza in children: Prevention and treatment with antiviral drugs", section on 'Antiviral therapy'.)

Expected course of illness — In infants and young children, the symptoms of the common cold usually peak on day 2 to 3 of illness and then gradually improve over 10 to 14 days (figure 1) [7,8]. The cough may linger in a minority of children, but should steadily resolve over three to four weeks. In older children and adolescents, symptoms usually resolve in five to seven days (longer in those with underlying lung disease or who smoke cigarettes) [9-11].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jun 27, 2017.
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