1. Coughs, colds and flu

Your child’s nose is dribbling. They’re coughing and sneezing, have a bit of a
temperature and seem unwell. If your child has recently started going to childcare, playgroup or school, this may feel like a never-ending story in your house. The good news is these regular coughs and colds are helping to build your child’s immune system. Flu symptoms tend to be a little more severe than the common cold. It can leave your child feeling pretty unwell, achy and uncomfortable for a week or even longer.

You can help your child feel more comfortable by:

  • Giving your child plenty of fluids to drink
  • Giving them an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or paracetamol (check you have the right dose and strength for your child’s age)
  • Nurofen for Children oral suspensions contain ibuprofen and help to reduce fever for up to 8 hours*
  • Keeping them away from smoke and anyone who smokes
  • Speaking to your doctor or pharmacist about other ways to help. For children over 6 years, they may recommend an over-the-counter cough and cold medicine.

To help your child stay healthy, encourage them to practice good hygiene by washing hands and covering coughs, and remember to keep your home and workplace clean.

Practicing physical distancing is important in public, at work, and in schools. If you or your child are sick, stay at home- if you are unsure, speak with your doctor.

See your GP if your child has the following symptoms, or if you are worried:

  • a sore throat
  • not breathing easily
  • a cough that’s lasted longer than 4 weeks
  • under 3 months old with a fever above 38°C
  • aged 3-6 months old with a fever above 39°C

Regardless of the age of your child, seek medical help urgently if they have a very high fever (over 40°C), if they seem to be getting sicker, or if they have a fever along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Uncontrollable shivering or shaking
  • Severe headache that doesn’t get better after taking pain relievers
  • Difficulty breathing, or unusual breathing
  • Getting confused, unusually drowsy or you can’t wake them up properly
  • Seem floppy or complain of leg pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • A worrying rash that doesn’t disappear when you press on it
  • Blue lips and tongue
  • Light is hurting their eyes
  • Refusing to drink
  • Not doing a wee
  • Severe pain
  • An unusual high-pitched cry


If you are worried about your child and their symptoms for any reason, be sure to see your doctor.

2. Asthma

Asthma is a common reason children see a doctor. Asthma affects the
airways, making it difficult to breathe and often presents with symptoms such as
wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, and chest tightness. The severity of symptoms is different for each child with asthma.

See your doctor if you think your child may have asthma. Your doctor may carry out some tests and ask about your child's symptoms to make a diagnosis. If your child has a sudden or severe onset of symptoms, seek medical attention. If your child is struggling to breathe, dial 111 immediately.

3. Bronchitis/bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory tract infection which usually affects babies under the age of one. Early signs of bronchiolitis may include a mild cough and a runny or blocked nose. As it develops, your child may also have a slight fever, dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, and rapid or noisy breathing.

Most babies get better on their own without the need for medical treatment while others with more serious bronchiolitis may need to go into hospital to help with their breathing. Be sure to see the doctor if you are worried and seek urgent medical attention if your baby is:

  • Under 3 months old
  • Breathing fast, has noisy breathing and using extra effort to breathe
  • Looks pale and unwell
  • Is feeding less than half of normal
  • Is vomiting
  • Has not had a wet nappy for 6 hours

At home, you can care for your child by giving them as much rest as possible. Make sure you sleep baby on their back and keep an eye on their breathing. You can clear baby’s nose if needed with saline drops. Give them smaller feeds more often and if they feel uncomfortable or upset, you could give your baby over-the-counter pain relievers.

4. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a common condition that causes diarrhoea and vomiting in children and is most often caused by a bacterial or viral tummy bug. The main symptoms of illness include, watery diarrhoea, feeling sick, vomiting and mild fever. They may also have a loss of appetite, aching limbs and stomach upset. The vomiting may settle quickly but the diarrhoea can last up to 10 days.

It’s comforting to know that most cases of gastro will settle down after a few days and you can usually look after your child at home until they feel better. You can care for them by giving small amounts of fluid often- water is best but you can try diluted juice, watery soup or rehydration products from the pharmacy too. Continue to feed your child if they’re hungry and make sure they get plenty of rest. To prevent the spread of infection, remember to maintain hand hygiene and keep your child away from school or day care for at least 48 hours after the last episode.

If your baby is under 6 months with diarrhoea and vomiting, be sure to see the doctor straight away as they can more easily become dehydrated.

Remember, always see the doctor if you are worried or if your child is showing any of these symptoms:

  • vomiting and diarrhoea, and not drinking
  • a lot of diarrhoea (eight to 10 watery poos, or two or three large poos per day)
  • diarrhoea that is not improving after 10 days
  • vomiting frequently and seem unable to keep any fluids down
  • show signs of dehydration such as fewer wet nappies or not going to the toilet much, dark yellow or brown wee, feel lightheaded or dizzy, have dry lips and mouth  
  • have a bad stomach pain
  • have any blood in their poo
  • have green vomit

5. Ear infection

If your child is pulling at their ear or complaining of ear pain, listen up–they may have an ear infection. Ear infections are common in babies and young children up to 7 years old (especially during or just after a cold) but usually do not need to be treated with antibiotics. Ear infections are painful for older children and may have a fever and complain of reduced hearing. Young babies may also have a fever, cry and seem clingy or grizzly and keep touching their ear.

To help them feel better, speak to your pharmacist or doctor about using over-the-counter pain relievers and don’t forget to give your baby lots of extra cuddles!

Ear infections should start to improve within 24-48 hours. If symptoms are no better or anytime you think your child has sore ears, always take them to see your doctor.

6. Viral diseases like chickenpox

Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella virus. It’s easy to catch chickenpox, and the main symptom is the rash–red spots that can appear anywhere on the body and fill with fluid before they begin to scab over. These blister-like sores are usually very itchy and burst forming a scab that falls off 1 to 2 weeks later. Other symptoms your child may have include a fever, sore throat and headache. Your child will need to stay away from school or childcare until all spots have crusted over.

Be sure to see your doctor if you are worried for any reason or if your child becomes increasingly unwell with symptoms, such as:

  • a high fever, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, confusion, severe headache, difficulty breathing, drowsiness, fits
  • a severe rash in the mouth or on the body that looks infected or bruises into the skin

7. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition that may affect children. If your child has conjunctivitis, they may have red or pink, itchy eyes that feel gritty; their eyes may water more than usual and might have a discharge which sticks to the lashes. Conjunctivitis that is caused by viral or bacterial infection is highly contagious.

If allergies are behind your child’s conjunctivitis, their eyes may be red and watery, but they won’t be contagious. Children with allergic conjunctivitis may show other signs of hay fever, like an itchy or runny nose and sneezing.

You can help prevent the spread of infection and care for your child while they have conjunctivitis by:

  • encouraging them to wash their hands frequently with warm soapy water
  • washing pillows and face cloths in hot water and detergent
  • asking them to try to avoid rubbing their eyes
  • not sharing towels or pillows
  • gently cleaning away crusty discharge with clean cotton wool soaked in warm water (use a clean piece of cotton for each eye, clean in one direction only – outwards from the inside [nose side] of the eye and discard the cotton ball after each clean)

Conjunctivitis can last from 2 days to sometimes 3 weeks but it’s important to see a doctor if you are worried, or if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • severe pain
  • problems with their vision/eyesight
  • increased swelling, redness and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eyes
  • is generally unwell and has a fever
  • a persistent white spot in the cornea (the clear ‘window’ at the front of the eye)


*Autret-Leca et al 2007.