Q: My child has had a runny nose for a week, how do I know when it is more than a cold?
A: Most upper respiratory infections (URIs) or colds will last one to two weeks. Oftentimes they are associated with a low grade temperature (100-101°F) in the beginning of the illness. In general, children should be seen if the cold is associated with difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, high fever (>102°F), fever that lasts more than 72 hours, or a fever that appears at the end of a cold. Of course, if your child is complaining of earache or sinus pain/pressure, a visit to the doctor would also be advised.
Q: My child’s runny nose has been thick and green…..does that mean they have a sinus infection?
A: No. Most colds will go through a purulent phase, when the nasal secretion appears thick and green. This often occurs at the beginning and the end of colds and in the morning when the nasal mucosa tends to be drier. Sinus infections will also produce thick nasal secretions, but are usually associated with sinus pain or pressure.
Q: Will an antibiotic help my child’s cold?
A: No. A cold is caused by a virus. Antibiotics only help bacterial infections. Sometimes a cold can lead to an ear or sinus infection. These infections may be bacterial, and therefore, may require antibiotics.
Q: Why not treat all colds with antibiotics, because my child always gets a sinus or ear infection?
A: Antibiotics can have many potentially harmful side effects. For many years, doctors over-prescribed antibiotics to treat infections that were not bacterial. This over-prescribing has led to the development of bacteria that are resistant to commonly-prescribed antibiotics. The more antibiotics your child is prescribed, the greater the likelihood that bacteria will develop resistance. Antibiotics can also kill many good bacteria that live in our intestines and aid with digestion. By killing these bacteria, we can harm our digestive tracts, which can ultimately lead to digestive problems like diarrhea. Of course if an ear infection were to occur during a cold, the risks of an untreated ear infection would usually outweigh the potential side effects of the antibiotics.
Q: Would culturing my child’s nasal secretions tell you what is causing their infection?
A: No. Many bacteria normally live in our noses. Even a completely healthy person will grow some bacteria in their nose.