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Signs of breathing problems in children

How can I look after my child at home?

If your child is unwell, there are a number of things you can do to take care of them and make them more comfortable. Find out more on this page.

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.
  • If your child has a fever follow advice on how to take care of them at home and know when to see medical help.
  • 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 or vape around your child.

What about treatments or medication?

Give children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen if your child is in pain or has a fever. Take care not to give more than the recommended dose and follow the instructions on the packet. If you’re not sure what to give your child, talk to your local pharmacist.

Do antibiotics help?

Most infections in children are caused by viruses. This is especially true for children under one. 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 one, honey is recommended to soothe their throat and reduce coughing. The NHS has advice on coughs in children, including how to make a warm drink of honey and lemon. Honey should not be given to babies under 12 months old, as it can contain bacteria that might produce toxins in a baby’s intestines.

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 – remember: catch it, bin it, kill it
  • 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.


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