Cold And Flu In Babies. What Are The Symptoms?

Young babies don’t have the language skills to verbally communicate with others, they can’t tell if they feel pain in the throat, stomach discomfort, or headaches. Their immune system is not mature yet, as they didn’t have enough exposure and develop resistance to many viruses from the environment. Babies may play with other children, and they don’t know how to wash their hands or cover the sneeze. Therefore they are at increased risk to catch a cold and the flu, especially during the fall and winter. How can you tell if a baby has an infection such as cold or flu? How are the symptoms different from adults? Let’s get into details in this article. 

Symptoms of the common cold in babies 

The first symptoms of a common cold are usually a runny and congested nose. The discharge from the nose is usually clear at the beginning and may become thicker or change color (become yellowish or greenish) over the next few days. Other symptoms may include irritability, trouble sleeping, and nursing or feeding due to a congested nose. The baby may have less appetite, cough, and sneeze, or have digestive symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. Older babies may complain of tummy aches or throat pain. While adults do not usually get a fever, babies can have a fever when they have a cold.  

Most colds are minor, self-limited, and resolve within 10-14 days. If the symptoms don’t improve or become more severe, parents should seek medical advice. Complications or other conditions that may be associated with the common cold in babies include ear infections (either viral or bacterial), wheezing (especially if there is pre-existing asthma), sinus infections, pneumonia, or croup. 

Complications of cold and flu in babies. What are the symptoms?

When symptoms last more than 14 days, or they get severe, or new symptoms develop, it may be due to a complication like ear infections, sinus infections,  pneumonia, or croup.  

Signs of an ear infection include tugging or pulling the ear, fluid daring from the year, troubles hearing or responding to auditory cues, as well as general symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, and increased irritability. 

Signs and symptoms suggestive of sinus infection include thick, yellow-greenish nasal discharge lasting more than 3 consecutive days, postnasal drip which can be associated with a sore throat, bad breath, cough and nausea, headaches, and swelling around the eyes. 

The croup is easy to identify, as it causes a characteristic barking cough or hoarseness. It peaks 2-3 days after the symptoms of the flu start, lasts about 3-7 days and symptoms are worse at night or when the baby is crying. 

When it comes to pneumonia, the signs and symptoms vary by age. Newborns and babies less than 1-month-old rarely have a cough. They tend to be irritable, refuse to feed, have faster than normal breathing, shortness of breath, and grunting sounds. 

Babies older than one month old but younger than 1 year are more likely to have a cough, along with the other symptoms found in newborns, wheezing or heavy breathing and fever (especially when pneumonia is due to a bacterial infection). Babies over 1 year of age will typically have a fever, cough, rapid breathing, and congestion. Vomiting can also occur after coughing. 

Symptoms of flu in babies 

The symptoms of flu may mimic a common cold in babies- with fever or look feverish, chills, fatigue, cough with chest or stomach discomfort, diarrhea, or vomiting. However, the flu tends to cause more severe symptoms. Another clue is that flu tends to develop suddenly while symptoms of cold come on gradually. The symptoms usually resolve within two weeks. In some cases, flu can complicate with sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, brain dysfunction, dehydration, and aggravation of pre-existing conditions like asthma or heart diseases. Babies younger than 6 months old and those with the weakened immune systems are at higher risk to develop complications. 

When to seek medical advice

For very young babies (0-3 months old), it is important to book a consultation with the doctor early, when the first symptoms occur, especially if the fever is present and if flu is more likely the problem. Early treatment may help prevent complications. 

For babies older than 3 months, medical advice is needed if the following signs and symptoms occur: temperature higher than 100.4 F ( or 38 C), unusual irritability or signs of ear pain, red eyes, persistent cough, troubles breezing or wheezing, nasal discharge for several days that is thinking, yellowish or greenish, other unusual signs like excessive cry, avoid feeding or isn’t wetting as many diapers as usual. 

More severe symptoms require medical treatment right away. These symptoms include severe coughing which causes vomiting or changes in skin color or bluish lips, mucus with blood, severe shortness of breath, lethargy and overall looking very sick. 

As a general rule, call a doctor if your baby isn’t feeling well, symptoms are getting worse, or he is behaving unusually. There are many other conditions that can affect the babies and doctors are trained to get the right diagnosis. 

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