When should I see a doctor about my baby’s cold or cough?

* Babies can’t tell you what’s wrong and usually different illnesses, from colds to meningitis, have similar symptoms, such as going off feeds. A little one’s condition also tends to change rapidly: he gets sick quickly, and has fewer reserves than adults to cope with illness.
* A high temperature (over 38°C) should be checked out by a doctor, especially if it’s persistent and if you can’t lower it with medicine or tepid baths. The higher a baby’s temperature, the sooner you should seek help: a little one with a temperature of 40°C should be seen that day.
* If your child stops eating, is drinking less and becomes lethargic or uninterested in what’s going on, take him to a doctor. If he develops a rash, gets worse after the first four or five days or isn’t improving after a week, it’s time to head to your GP.

How to tell if a cough or cold is serious:

According to Dr Lowri Kew, working out the cause of a cough can be hard even after examination by a doctor.
‘If your child is unwell or you’re worried, seek medical help,’ she advises.

* Croup is usually seen in children under 2, and starts with a temperature and hoarse voice. The characteristic barking cough is worse at night.
* Bronchiolitis tends to affect babies under 6 months (although can be up to 1 year). It starts like a cold, which progresses to an irritable cough, an increased rate of breathing and difficulty feeding over 2-3 days.
* Chest infections affect children of any age. Typical symptoms include a higher temperature (up to 38º C), going off food, an increased rate of breathing and a cough.
* Older children who complain of a headache may have sinusitis. They may have a temperature and a cough at night, as mucus drains down the throat.
* Asthma is more common if there’s family history of it. It doesn’t cause a high temperature unless there’s also a chest infection. Symptoms include a cough at night or wheezing with exercise, infection or at other times. In an acute attack, a child may breathe faster, cough, wheeze or draw in the skin between his ribs as he breathes.
* Whooping cough can start with a runny nose, progressing to a dry cough that occurs in bursts. After a bout of a hacking cough, a little one will breathe in, and in older children this may sound like a whooping noise. The child may vomit and is likely to be exhausted. The cough may last for several months and can occur even in vaccinated children.

Back to coughs and colds in babies.

More help and advice

Common kids’ health conditions
Tips and advice on bringing up your baby