These days, a child’s cough is more complicated than it was in the past. Just a few years ago, the common cold or a seasonal flu might have seemed like something to keep an eye on rather than inducing a state of fear and uncertainty, wondering which winter virus is making your child sick this cold and flu season. While any severe symptoms should be addressed with your pediatrician or evaluated in the emergency room, the worry of mild ailments might be comforted with a little extra information. Keep this guide on hand to help you understand the viruses in winter to watch out for, and tips for how to help your little one start feeling better!

The Common Cold

Often considered mild and harmless, the “common cold” is a viral infection of the nose and throat and can be caused by many different viruses. The typical signs of the winter cold virus include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and simply not feeling well. Fevers are definitely possible when kids have the cold, so be sure to take your kids’ temperatures often. This icky feeling usually lasts between five and ten days but can take up to two weeks for symptoms to subside and your child to feel well again. 

During this time, keep an eye on your little one, encouraging them to sleep well and to eat and drink regularly, even though they might not feel like it. Watch out for lack of adequate fluid intake to avoid dehydration. In the meantime, you can help your child feel more comfortable and ease symptoms by offering an acetaminophen pain reliever and fever reducer. However, be sure to avoid cough medicines for young children as they are not suitable for those under the age of three. 

Seasonal Flu

Influenza, or as it is often called, the seasonal flu, is a viral infection that is characterized as more severe than the common cold. Symptoms are likely to include moderate to severe coughing, headaches, fevers, chills, and body aches. It generally takes around a week to start seeing improvement and an increased feeling of wellness. To speed recovery along, talk to your pediatrician about the use of an antiviral medication to treat the flu. If recommended, these medications be taken within a few days of the start of symptoms to shorten the illness and reduce its severity. 

Be aware that young children can be at high risk. In a few cases, the flu can be dangerous and even cause hospitalization or death. So, keep an eye on the severity of your child’s symptoms and notify your pediatrician if they worsen. In the event of high fevers or other troubling symptoms like troubled breathing or a bluish discoloration of their skin, visit the emergency room for an urgent assessment. Family members above the age of six months can get a flu shot every year to protect against this potentially dangerous winter virus and reduce severity and duration of illness in the event of an infection.


Croup, an infection of the upper airway, is known for a cough resembling a bark. Croup is common in babies and other young children and often comes along with additional symptoms such as sore throat, fever, body aches, and noisy breathing. The infection can cause swelling that can make breathing more difficult for your child. The illness, though most severe in the first 72 hours, generally lasts five to ten days. To ease symptoms, humidified, steamy, or cold air can sometimes provide changes in air temperature that help improve breathing. 

One tell-tale sign that your child’s illness could be Croup, is that their symptoms seem to get worse at night, and better during the day. Be aware that Croup can become severe and may require hospitalization and treatments to aid in restoring proper breathing. This cold and flu season, keep a close eye on your child’s symptoms to try to identify or rule out Croup. If symptoms significantly worsen or become worrisome, do not hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician or visit the urgent care or emergency room for assessment.


RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, is a common virus that causes infections of the respiratory tract. Generally mild in adults and older children, you might not be able to recognize it as different from other common viruses in winter. Typically, patients experience coughing fits and reduced well-being for a week to ten days. However, in babies and smaller children, RSV can be much more severe and dangerous. Additional symptoms might include sneezing, runny nose, fever, wheezing, and decreased appetite. Young children might experience vomiting after coughing fits as well as challenges with breathing. 

Know that this virus can be particularly dangerous and life threatening for small children. If you notice any concerning breathing, take your child to the emergency room immediately for treatments to help clear the airways and increase oxygen. Some particularly at-risk children may benefit from preventative treatments.


Covid-19 is a novel virus and, as of now, it is yet to be considered a seasonal virus. As the world continues to vaccinate, social distance, and take additional precautions for health and safety, we can look out for the commonly associated symptoms. Although experiences differ between persons and can vary based on age, we know to watch for headaches, body aches, cough, fever, exhaustion, and loss of taste or smell. As experiences can be very similar to other winter viruses, a test is the best way to confirm or rule out Covid-19 as the culprit of your child’s sickness. 

If you suspect your child has Covid-19, take careful precautions by isolating as a family, to the best of your abilities, until a test can make a determination. While children generally do not experience extreme symptoms, a small percentage of children can still develop severe disease and are thus still at risk of hospitalization and even death. Vaccination is your family’s best defense against severe illness from Covid-19.

At Coastal Kids Pediatrics, we are here to help you every step of the way. Whether your child has a concerning cough, simple sniffles, or any other startling symptoms, our passionate team of pediatricians is prepared to assess and treat your little one. In the meantime, we recommend vaccinations for the seasonal flu and Covid-19 for all eligible children. Feel free to call or visit us at to schedule an appointment to get your child vaccinated against common winter viruses to stay safe during the cold and flu season.