Family Doctor Tips on Caring for Children with Respiratory Symptoms
Most respiratory illness in children, including colds, influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and COVID-19 can be managed at home without the need for prescription medications. However, in some cases, it is important to seek medical care.
Below, family doctors share tips on how to decide when to seek care for a respiratory illness and how to support your child at home.
Call your family doctor if your child:
- Has a fever lasting 72 hours or longer.
- Has a fever that went away for a day or longer (without fever medication) and then came back.
- Is unusually irritable and won’t stop fussing, even after treating their fever.
- Has an earache lasting more than 48 hours.
- Is not eating or drinking. Note that it’s normal to eat and drink less when sick. Liquids are more important than food.
- Has special needs that make caring for them more difficult.
As a parent or guardian, you know your child best. If you feel your child needs to be seen by a family doctor, please reach out for help.
Not sure what to do? Health Connect Ontario has a symptom checker(opens in new tab) and the option to chat live with a nurse(opens in new tab). You can also call 811 to speak with a nurse, available 24 hours a day.
Call 911 or go to the emergency department when:
- You are worried that your child is seriously ill.
- Your infant, younger than three months old, has a fever.
- Your child is struggling to breathe or is breathing faster than normal.
- You are concerned that your child is at risk of dehydration or is dehydrated.
These are only some examples of when to seek emergency care. Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has more information to help decide if your child needs emergency care(opens in new tab).
For more information specific to COVID-19 and children, including rare complications, see My child has COVID. What should I know?(opens in new tab) in the Confused about COVID(opens in new tab) series.
Helping your child at home
- Fever: Treat fever or pain with over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your child can take it — and if it is available.
- Red eyes and discharge: These symptoms almost always go away on their own, without antibiotic drops or other medication. Warm compresses and artificial tears can help reduce discomfort.
- Stuffy and runny nose: Try saline rinsing sprays, a humidifier or a nasal aspirator.
- Earache: If you notice your child tugging on their ear, they may have an earache. Get assessed if your child’s earache lasts more than 48-72 hours, if there is discharge from the ear or they have had more than 2-3 ear infections in the last year.
- Cough: Treat a cough with a humidifier or the steam from a shower. If the cough sounds like a bark, cool outside air may help. If your child is at least one year old, you can give them 1-2 teaspoons of honey in the evening.
- Fluids: Make sure your child gets enough fluids, including water, soups, sports drinks or even popsicles. Breastmilk / formula is enough for young babies who do not drink other fluids.
Call your family doctor or pharmacist for advice if you are having difficulty accessing over-the-counter medicines. Information from the Canadian Pediatric Society outlines how to take a child's temperature(opens in new tab) and what to do if they have a fever. Here is a video on managing fever in a child(opens in new tab) from the U.K.’s National Health Service.
Tips to stay healthy and prevent illness
- Wear a mask (and have your child wear a mask) when in crowded, public indoor spaces.
- Wash your hands often and well; use hand sanitizer when washing is not possible.
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hand.
- Stay home and keep your child home when they are sick, especially in the first couple of days when most infectious.
- Get the flu shot and keep COVID-19 doses up to date.
Visit the Ontario College of Family Physicians' website to view and download a PDF copy of this resource.