Symptoms and causes


The first indication of the common cold in a baby is often:

  • A congested or runny nose
  • Nasal discharge that may be clear at first but might thicken and turn yellow or green

Other signs and symptoms of a common cold in a baby may include:

  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble nursing or taking a bottle due to nasal congestion

When to see a doctor

Your baby's immune system will need time to mature. If your baby has a cold with no complications, it should resolve within 10 to 14 days.

If your baby is younger than 2 to 3 months of age, call the doctor early in the illness. For newborns, a common cold can quickly develop into croup, pneumonia or another serious illness.

Most colds are simply a nuisance. But it's important to take your baby's signs and symptoms seriously.

If your baby is 3 months old or older, call the doctor if your baby:

  • Isn't wetting as many diapers as usual
  • Has a temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Seems to have ear pain or is unusually irritable
  • Has red eyes or develops yellow or greenish eye discharge
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has a persistent cough
  • Has thick, green nasal discharge for several days
  • Has other signs or symptoms that worry you, such as an unusual or alarming cry

Seek medical help immediately if your baby:

  • Refuses to nurse or accept fluids
  • Coughs hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color
  • Coughs up blood-tinged sputum
  • Has difficulty breathing or is bluish around the lips


The common cold is an infection of the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract infection) that can be caused by one of more than 100 viruses. Rhinoviruses are the most common.

Once infected by a virus, your baby generally becomes immune to that virus. But because so many viruses cause colds, your baby may have several colds a year and many throughout his or her lifetime. Also, some viruses don't produce lasting immunity.

A common cold virus enters your baby's mouth, nose or eyes. Your baby can be infected with a virus by:

  • Air. When someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks, he or she might directly spread the virus to your baby.
  • Direct contact. Someone with a cold who touches your baby's hand can spread the cold virus to your baby, who can become infected after touching his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Contaminated surfaces. Some viruses live on surfaces for two hours or longer. Your baby may catch a virus by touching a contaminated surface, such as a toy.

Risk factors

A few factors put infants at higher risk of a common cold.

  • Immature immune systems. Infants are, by nature, at risk of common colds because they haven't yet been exposed to or developed resistance to most of the viruses that cause them.
  • Exposure to other children. Infants spend time with other children, who don't always wash their hands and cover their coughs and sneezes, which increases your baby's risk of catching a cold.
  • Time of year. Both children and adults are more susceptible to colds from fall to late spring.


  • Acute ear infection (otitis media). This is the most common complication of the common cold. Ear infections occur when bacteria or viruses enter the space behind the eardrum.
  • Wheezing. A cold can trigger wheezing, even if your child doesn't have asthma. If your child does have asthma, a cold can make it worse.
  • Sinusitis. A common cold that doesn't resolve may lead to a secondary infection within the sinuses (sinusitis).
  • Other secondary infections. These include pneumonia, bronchiolitis and croup. Such infections require evaluation by a doctor.
May 20, 2016
  1. Kliegman RM, et al. The common cold. In: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2016. Accessed March 10, 2016.
  2. Long SS, et al. The common cold. In: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012. Accessed March 10, 2016.
  3. When to call the baby's doctor: Print-and-go guide. National Women's Health Information Center. Accessed March 10, 2016.
  4. An important FDA reminder for parents: Do not give infants cough and cold products designed for older children. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Accessed March 10, 2016.
  5. Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 11, 2016.