Q&A: Your queries on baby coughs and colds answered

Family GP Dr Philippa Kaye clears up common queries about your baby's seasonal sniffles


Q. My six-month-old daughter has just caught her first cold. She is finding it difficult to sleep and wakes up a lot during the night. I think this is due to her stuffy nose. I have heard that it’s not a good idea to use vapour rubs on babies. Why is this?

A. We all know how uncomfortable a stuffy nose can be and that lying down to go to sleep can make it feel worse. Prop one end of your daughter’s cot up on a few books or blocks so that she sleeps on a slightly vertical tilt, as this may help her to breathe more easily.


There are vapour rubs available over the counter but as many of these decongestants contain eucalyptus oil, which can be toxic for children and cause some extremely serious side effects, I would avoid using them on your baby.

It is recommended that children do not ingest sore throat lozenges containing eucalyptus oil and children under two years should not have any rubs or oils containing the oil rubbed onto their skin. There are baby versions for those over three months that are specifically designed to contain lower doses of the oil, but I think a better way to ease your baby’s congestion is to use a humidifier to keep the air in her room moist and, if required, you can use a nasal saline (salt water) spray to thin the mucus. You can buy this over the counter from your pharmacy along with a special bulb syringe with which you can suck out the mucus.

Make sure your daughter also drinks plenty of fluid to keep her hydrated, and if you are concerned, take her to your doctor.

Q. My nine-month-old daughter has developed a fever, runny nose and a cough. I’m worried that it’s more than a cold as her breathing sounds very wheezy and she has lost her appetite. How can I help her?

A. Your daughter may have a condition called bronchiolitis, which is a common lower respiratory tract infection in young children. Every winter, there is an epidemic and very young babies – generally between the ages of one to six months, but up to two years – are affected. Children usually have the symptoms of mild fever, runny nose and a wheezing cough.

Many manage without any problems, but some develop respiratory distress, where they have difficulties breathing. If your daughter’s nostrils flare out with each breath or if the muscles in-between and under her ribs draw in with each breath, then she is working hard to breathe. If this is the case, or if the shortness of breath makes feeding difficult, your daughter should be seen by a doctor as she may need admission to hospital. Her respiratory difficulties may worsen over the first two to three days, but they will generally improve after that.


The majority of cases of bronchiolitis are caused by a particular virus, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), for which there is no specific treatment. If, as occurs in only a minority of cases, your daughter needs admission to a hospital, she will be given help with breathing and/or feeding.

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