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Doctors reveal the best ways to soothe your child’s runny nose, cough and fever.

What’s happening? Your child’s nose runs because it’s trying to wash away germs. (Sometimes, cold outdoor air is all it takes to trigger more blood flow — and, consequently, guck — in your kid’s nose.)

Five-star strategies:

  • Drink lots of water to loosen snot and make it easier to drain.
  • Gently clear out gunk with a suction bulb or tube (a.k.a. snot sucker).
  • Clean the nose with a soft, saline-treated wipe.
  • Sit with little ones in a steamy bathroom before bedtime to ease stuffiness.

What’s happening? If your child has caught influenza — a respiratory virus, not to be confused with those gastrointestinal bugs commonly referred to as the stomach flu — she’s not a happy camper. She may have fever, chills, aches and pains, plus cold-like symptoms. Younger children can also have vomiting and diarrhea from influenza. “With the flu, you tend to be more sick than with the common cold,” says Bunmi Fatoye, medical officer of health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. “You have extreme fatigue — you just want to lie down and not do anything.” She may feel feverish and achy for two to four days, and it may take up to two weeks to recover completely.

 Five-star strategies:

  • Give acetaminophen for a fever that’s making your child uncomfortable.
  • Rest is best! Tuck your child in with a favourite blanket or stuffie, and offer up lots of TLC.
  • If her tummy is queasy, a children’s anti-nausea medication can help her keep food down. Try non-greasy, bland foods like saltine crackers and clear liquids.
  • Don’t put her in a cool bath for fever — it may make your child shiver, raising her body temperature. Instead, set the room temperature to 20°C and dress her lightly.

What’s happening? Inflammation makes your child’s throat feel scratchy or painful, especially when she swallows. Blame it (usually) on a viral infection.

Five-star strategies:

  • Give acetaminophen to lessen the pain.
  • Use a humidifier at night to keep the air moist (disinfect it and change the water every day so mould and bacteria don’t grow). Humidifiers help with other cold symptoms, like stuffiness, too.
  • Have your child gargle with warm salt water, if she can do this without swallowing.
  • Suck away soreness: Try a frozen fruit pop. Children older than six can suck a throat lozenge or hard candy, too.
  • Drink warm liquids to increase blood flow to the area and help with discomfort. Lemon and honey are soothing for sore throats. (Remember that honey isn’t safe for kids younger than one year old.)

What’s happening? Your kid is coughing because her airway is irritated or full of phlegm. A productive cough (wet and gunky) helps her clear mucus; so don’t try to suppress it. A dry cough can mean there’s leftover irritation from a cold.

Five-star strategies:

  • Try chewable vitamin-C supplements and vitamin-C-rich foods, like citrus fruit or orange juice. These may shorten colds.
  • For kids older than one year, give half a teaspoon of pasteurized honey (which has virus-fighting properties) before bed.
  • For kids older than two, a medicated rub on the chest and neck at bedtime has been shown to help with night coughing.
  • A warm bath or shower can loosen congestion and ease the airway.


If your child has trouble breathing, or is feverish and hard to wake up, get medical attention right away. You should also call the doctor if your child is refusing to eat or drink, or has a fever that makes him miserable (no matter what the temperature) but won’t respond to acetaminophen; reaches 38.6°C and keeps rising; or lasts more than a couple of days. If your baby is younger than three months old, you’re safest calling the doc for any fever.

What if you aren’t sure what’s wrong but your gut says there’s a problem? “If you feel, ‘I can’t put my finger on it, but this is just not right,’ it’s best to get the child checked.

Lisa Bendall – Today’s Parent