Ease Baby's Cold and Sneezes

How to soothe the symptoms of your little one's sniffles. Plus, how to recognize an ear infection.

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Just like us humans, cold viruses are indoors this time of year instead of chilling outside, so they get lots of opportunities to infect us. Infants are especially susceptible to the common cold because they haven't developed resistance to most of the viruses that cause them. That's why the most recommended cold-prevention strategy—washing hands frequently—is especially important for anyone handling your baby, says Kenneth E. Katz, M.D., a pediatrician in Littleton, Colo.

Some viruses spread before symptoms appear, and many colds are most contagious during the first few days, when mucus is clear and less noticeable. Washing shared toys regularly is another good idea, but you don't need to be compulsive. Colds are usually transmitted via a sneeze or cough into the air, Katz says. "Viruses survive on surfaces for 10 minutes or less."

Safe Symptom Relievers

If your little one does catch the sniffles, cold medicines are a no-go. Keep her comfortable with these tips instead:

- Use saline nose drops to loosen your baby's mucus, wait 15 seconds, then suction out mucus with a bulb syringe. This will help her feel less congested.

- Elevate your baby's head by putting blankets underneath the mattress in her crib, which encourages mucus to drain.

- Use a cool-mist humidifier (be sure to clean the filter frequently) at night.

Is it an ear infection? Colds are more likely to develop into ear infections in children 6 months to 2 ½ years old, when mucus can more easily plug tiny eustachian tubes. If your baby's cold is getting worse rather than better after four days, or she has a low-grade fever (100° F to 102° F) or becomes fussy, especially when lying down, dial the pediatrician—an ear infection could be the culprit.