Signs of breathing problems in children

How can I look after my child at home?

A child has natural defences against infection in their immune system. Most infections will clear up by themselves.

There are lots of things that you can do to keep them comfortable if they do get ill.

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. They can be used together but don’t give more than the recommended dose.
  • If your child has a fever, keep them cool if they’re in a warm environment. 18°C (65F) is recommended. Open a window if you need to.
  • Never allow anyone to smoke around your child.

Do antibiotics help?

Most infections in children are caused by viruses. 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.

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.

Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

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.