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Coughs and colds are extremely common in young children. Over the first year of life, your child is likely to have up to 8 of these episodes.
Coughing is the body's natural way of clearing infection.
Most of these are likely to be caused by a virus, which means that antibiotics are of no benefit (and may actually result in side effects such as rash and diarrhoea, as well as increasing the risk of them developing antibiotic resistance).
Having green snot or a noisy chest does not mean that your child has an infection requiring antibiotics.
It can sometimes be harder to identify the cause of a cough. In general, if it is associated with a runny nose, red eyes, ear pain or a wheeze, it is far more likely to be viral. Noisy chests are also common in young children with viral infections.
Coughing can wake a child in the night but does not mean the illness is more severe.
Children requiring antibiotics usually appear more unwell, with difficulty breathing, drowsiness, cold hands and feet and possibly blue lips – your child may need urgent medical attention if any of these features are present. Use the Symptom Checker below to help you decide what to do.
Watch a GP and health visitor talking about what they would look out for in a child with a cough and cold:
Your child may require emergency treatment.
You should call 999 or take them to your nearest Children’s A&E where they can be assessed.
Your child does not need to be rushed to A&E but you should seek medical advice today.
If your child develops any symptoms in the Red Box above, click and follow advice for that symptom.
You child does not seem to have any symptoms of serious illness or injury.
You can get general advice on the NHS website or from your local Pharmacy.
If your child develops any of the symptoms in the Red or Amber boxes above, click on that symptoms and follow the advice.
You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.
Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.
Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.
For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?
Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.
Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.
Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.
Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.
Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:
For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?
School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.
Contacting the School Nurse
Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.
All home educated children will have a named School Nurse.
Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.
They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-
Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.
The clinical team in GP surgeries include doctors, advanced nurse practitioners and nurses who are trained to assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP surgery team will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.
You have a choice of service:
If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.
Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.
A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.
Developed in Partnership with the Healthier Together Programme
Alder Hey Children's Charity