Frequently Asked Questions

My child has had a runny nose for a week, how do I know when it is more than a cold?
Most upper respiratory infections (URIs) or colds will last one and two weeks. Oftentimes they are associated with a low grade temperature (100-101) 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), 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.

My child’s runny nose has been thick and green…..does that mean he/she has a sinus infection?
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 muscosa tends to be drier. Sinus infections will also produce thick nasal secretions, but are usually associated with sinus pain or pressure.

Will an antibiotic help my child’s cold?
No. A cold is caused by a virus. Antibiotics only help bacteria infections. Sometimes a cold can lead into an ear infection or sinus infection. These infections may be bacterial, and the therefore, may need an antibiotic.

Why not treat all colds with an antibiotics, because my child always gets a sinus or ear infection?
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 let to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the 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 and cause 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 antibiotic.

Would culturing my child’s nasal secretions tell you what is causing their infection?
No. Many bacteria normally live in our noses. Even a completely healthy person will grow some bacteria from their nose.