Signs of breathing problems in children

How can I look after my child at home?

A child has natural defences against infection. Most infections will clear up by themselves, but there are things you can do to keep your child comfortable.

Keep your child comfortable

  • Encourage them to drink – little and often. Cool water is best. Give babies breast milk or formula. This will help prevent dehydration, loosen mucus and stop their throat feeling dry
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen if your child is in pain or has a fever. Take care not to give more than the recommended dose
  • If your child has a fever, keep them cool if they’re in a warm environment
  • If your child’s symptoms flare up in hot or humid weather, keep them cool and stay out of the sun
  • When going out, avoid air pollution hot spots, such as busy road junctions
  • Never allow anyone to smoke around your child

Do antibiotics help?

Most infections in children are caused by viruses. This is especially true for children under 1. Antibiotic treatment does not help with infections caused by viruses.

Your doctor will be able to discuss whether taking antibiotics may help. They may test to see if your child has a bacterial infection by taking a swab or a sample of blood or mucus.

What about cough medicine?

Coughing helps the body fight against infection and can take a while to go. Cough medicines do not stop your child coughing and are not recommended. Speak to your doctor if you’re unsure.

If your child is over 1, honey is recommended to soothe their throat and reduce coughing. Honey should not be given to babies under 12 months old.

Prevent infection from spreading

  • Wash everyone’s hands regularly. This can reduce the spread of viruses that cause infections.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when you are sneezing, coughing, wiping or blowing your nose and then throw the tissue into a bin.
  • Cover your child’s nose and mouth when they cough and sneeze.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing, and using tissues.
  • Wash your hands after touching anything that has mucus on it, including your child!
  • Keep toys and other things that your child touches clean.

Further information

Find out more about what happens when your child is diagnosed with a lung condition, including the help and support available to you.

If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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Last medically reviewed: September 2019. Due for review: September 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.