As we head into the colder and more wintery days, it’s important that parents and carers know what to do if their child becomes unwell and which NHS services to use.

Respiratory problems such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and sore throats can peak during this time of year. 

RSV is very common and spreads easily in coughs and sneezes. Almost all children have had it by the time they are two. In older children and adults, RSV may cause a cough or cold, but in young children it can cause bronchiolitis.


Bronchiolitis is a common chest infection that affects babies and children under two. It's usually mild and can be treated at home, but it can be serious.

The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to a cold, such as sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, a cough and a slightly high temperature of 38C.

A child with bronchiolitis may then get other symptoms, including breathing more quickly, finding it difficult to feed or eat, noisy breathing (wheezing) and becoming irritable. 

Symptoms are usually worst between days three and five, and the cough usually gets better in three weeks.

Advice for parents and carers 

Go to the nearest emergency department or phone 999 if your child has any of the following:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child's skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake.

As a parent, you may know if your child seems seriously unwell and should trust your own judgement.


Contact your GP surgery or call NHS 111 if your child has any of the following:

  • your child has had a cold and it's getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more, or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher
  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
  • your child is very tired or irritable.

If none of the symptoms above are present, you should care for your child at home.

  • give children's paracetamol to babies and children over two months old or ibuprofen to babies and children over three months old – but do not give aspirin to a child under 16
  • try using salt water (saline) drops if your child's nose is blocked
  • keep your child upright as much as possible when they're awake – this will help them breathe more easily
  • encourage your child to drink lots of fluids – try smaller feeds more often in babies, and give older children extra water or diluted fruit juice
  • do not smoke around your child
  • do not try to lower your child's temperature by sponging them with cool water or taking off all their clothes.