Treating Common Cold in a 3-Year-Old: All You Need To Know

What do you do when your child catches a cold? From causes and treatment to prevention tips, this article focuses on how you can relieve your child of her runny nose and itchy throat.

By Dr Shruti Ghatalia

Treating Common Cold in a 3-Year-Old: All You Need To Know

The Father of Modern Medicine, Sir William Osler had said, “The only way to treat the common cold is with contempt”. This statement holds true even today!

Common cold is the most frequently occurring infectious disease in humans. A child may get 5 to 8 episodes of cold per year till the age of 5 years. Here are some FAQs on common cold.

What causes common cold?

More than 200 types of human rhinoviruses are responsible for over 50% of colds. The other commonly found cold-causing viruses are the respiratory syncytial virus, human metapneumovirus, parainfluenza, adenovirus, etc.

These viruses typically spread by hand-to-hand or surface-to-hand transmission. They also spread when a person inhales the virus emitted by someone who sneezes or coughs in his vicinity. Children going to playgroups or day-care centres are more vulnerable.

What are the symptoms of common cold?

Common cold is an acute viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. The predominant symptoms of cold are sore throat, runny nose and nose block.

A few children may complain of headache, hoarseness of voice, body ache, irritability, difficulty in sleeping and reduced appetite when they have cold. Fever is uncommon in 3-year-olds with common cold.

What are the causes of dry cough?

Two-thirds of the patients may develop dry irritating cough once the nasal symptoms appear. Often, this is due to irritation caused by mucus accumulating in the throat or dripping from the back of your nose (post nasal drip). Children may have bouts of cough immediately after sleeping. The child can continue to cough for a week or two after the other symptoms of cold have abated.

What are the complications caused by common cold?

Occasionally, cold can lead to complications like ear infections, sinusitis and exacerbation of asthma.

When should you consult a doctor?

Common cold symptoms generally last for a week. If they persist or don’t follow the usual pattern, it’s imperative to visit your doctor to rule out other diseases which show similar symptoms—bacterial infections, allergic rhinitis, foreign body, rhinitis medicamentosa, etc.

How to treat common cold in your child?

There is no magical cure for cold! However, the following measures will make your child comfortable.

1) Rest: When your body’s immune system battles the virus, your child becomes tired. She needs to rest for more than 12 hours a day.

2) Adequate oral hydration: This helps to thin the secretions, soothes respiratory mucosa and prevents dehydration. Give your child plenty of warm liquids – soup, water, milk, kanji, clear broth, etc. A child with reduced appetite may not want to eat much but will be ready to sip on hot liquids.

Lukewarm water is also a good cough suppressant.

When your child has caught a cold and is struggling to eat, try to give her some warm soup to make her feel better. The following ClipBook has some healthy soups recipes you can try.

3) Saline nasal drops and spray: They help to remove secretions and reduce discomfort. Don’t use medicated drops. They may cause the congestion to recur if used for more than 5 days.

4) Humidified air: It helps to make nasal secretions loose. You may use cool humidifiers or expose your child to bathroom steam if she is comfortable with that.

5) Blowing the nose the right way: Teach your child never to sniff the secretions back into the nose. Close one nostril with your finger and ask her to gently blow out the secretions from the other nostril.

6) Eucalyptus or menthol oil: A drop or two on their pillow or shirt may clear nasal congestion and improve breathing.

7) Honey and lemon mixture: It will help soothe the throat. Give your child one spoonful 2-3 times a day to reduce cough.

8) Cough: Some children may get virus-induced reactive airway disease which causes wheezing. They may need bronchodilators.

Cold leads to wheezing in some children. Want to know how to deal with your child when she has a wheezing attack? Read the following article.


9) Paracetamol: It is used to relieve the symptoms of fever such as sore throat and body ache. Avoid using Aspirin, Ibuprofen or Nimesulide.

10) Adequate nutrition: It is very important to give your child a nutritious diet when she is sick as well as when she’s recovering from cold. A diet rich in vitamins and zinc will help. Give plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Let her eat anything she likes – she’s more likely to accept favourite foods during an illness since her appetite is reduced. Don’t force feed your child.

A child with low immunity catches cold often and struggles with the recovery process. Here’s how you can build her immunity.


11) Cough and cold syrups: Over-the-counter cough and cold remedies are not advised for a 3-year-old child. Some medicines have grave side effects while others are useless. First-generation antihistamines may reduce runny nose symptoms but cause sedation or paradoxical hyperactivity. Use medicines only when necessary, after consulting your doctor.

12) Avoid antibiotics: They don’t act on viruses and cause unnecessary side effects. Your child may also develop resistance to antibiotics.

What are the ways to prevent your child from catching common cold?

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and face unnecessarily
  • Use hand sanitisers
  • Avoid close contact with persons having cold
  • Avoid day care centres and playgroups when unwell to prevent your child from infecting other children
  • Check that your child does not have Vitamin D deficiency and anaemia.
  • Lack of sleep and stress reduce immunity. Ensure your child gets adequate rest.
  • The influenza vaccine covers a small portion of all colds.

Common cold leads to a lot of discomfort and affects the quality of life of a child. So, it is important to handle it correctly – with a lot of supportive care and love.

The author is a Pediatrician, Neonatologist and Respiratory & Allergy specialist.