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Ask the Pediatrician: What can I do at home to make my child more comfortable when they are sick?

Published on Jan. 12, 2023

Having a little one come down with a cold or other illness can be a stressful experience for parents. While coughs, fevers and sniffles are a common occurrence in homes with young children, especially during cold and flu season, it’s easy to become anxious or overwhelmed. The good news is, there are lots of ways to help your child be more comfortable as they rest up and wait to feel better:

  • Suction their nose. When your child has a stuffy nose, they aren’t able to breathe, swallow, eat or drink as they normally do. Not only can this be very uncomfortable for your child, it can cause them to refuse to drink liquids as often as they should, making them feel worse. It can even cause dehydration, which can become serious. Suctioning a child’s nose can help clear out their nasal passages and allow them to breathe more comfortably. Suction is especially important for babies; their little nasal passages easily become clogged, making it hard for them to breathe.
    • How to suction your child’s nose: Use a suction machine, ball suction (like the kind you received when your child was discharged from the hospital after they were born), or other suction device (like a NoseFrida) to suction your child’s nostrils out one at a time. While not absolutely necessary, a few drops of saline solution in each nostril can help thin out the mucus, making it easier to suction out.
  • Add moisture to the air. A vaporizer or humidifier can help soothe nasal passages and thin out mucus, making it easier to cough up. Be very careful with vaporizers or humidifiers – they operate on hot water and steam, so be sure they stay away from your child to reduce the risk of a scald burn. Additionally, be sure to wash out the vaporizer or humidifier basin daily to prevent any buildup of mold or mildew in the basin.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Staying hydrated is important for getting over any sort of illness. For older kids, water is always the go-to, but when they’re sick, you can also give them liquids with electrolytes (like Pedialyte Gatorade, or even juice diluted with some water) to encourage them to keep sipping. For babies, stick with formula or breastmilk – both have the water and nutrition baby needs.
  • Give medicine for fever. While fevers aren’t bad in and of themselves, they can definitely make a child feel uncomfortable. If age-appropriate, give your child an over-the-counter (OTC) fever reducer like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen). Make sure you read the medicine bottle label carefully, and call your pediatrician if you have any questions. Do not give a baby younger than 2 months any medicine without talking to your pediatrician first.
  • Think in layers. Dress your child in loose, comfortable clothing, and layer up with a sweater or a blanket if they need it. This will help them regulate their body temperature more easily, helping them stay more comfortable as they rest.
  • Location, location, location. Help your child settle down to rest in a quiet and comfortable place. Pick an area where they can lay down and not be disturbed if they fall asleep. Be sure not to set the thermostat too high; a too-warm environment can be very uncomfortable for someone with a fever.

Aside from these tips, remember some of the old standbys for staying healthy during cold and flu season:

  • Wash your hands! Good hand hygiene is one of the most important things you can do to prevent respiratory infections, like RSV and the flu. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds to help scrub away germs, especially before eating, after using the restroom, or after helping someone who is sick.
  • Stay home and wear a mask if you are sick. Be respectful of others and stay home if possible when you aren’t feeling well to prevent the spread of germs. If you have to go out, wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene when around others.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow. Whenever you need to cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow or into a tissue, not into your hand. Those around you will thank you!


About the Author

Dr. Whitney Kalin is a board-certified pediatric hospitalist at Valley Children’s Hospital. Her areas of clinical interest include pediatric sepsis and coccidiomycosis (Valley Fever). She is dedicated to assisting in the healing of children and to “give [her] best every day to the children of California’s Central Valley.”