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Ask A Pediatrician: Antibiotics for a Cold?

Ask A Pediatrician: Antibiotics for a Cold?

Q: How long should I let a cold go on without seeking treatment with antibiotics?

A: A runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat and cough can all be signs of an upper respiratory infection or cold. An upper respiratory infection is caused by a virus. The normal course of a viral infection can vary widely. Many of these types of infections will start with runny nose and/or sore throat and fever. As the infection progresses, a cough can occur. The fever usually only lasts a short time, and the cold symptoms can last 7-14 days. An antibiotic does not kill a virus. Your body’s immune system takes care of it with time. 

Once we have ruled out Covid infection, these are the signs that you need to come in to the clinic and consider antibiotic treatment.

  1. High fever that persists despite fever meds and beyond 2-3 days. 
  2. “Toxic” appearance- acting out of it, incessant crying, lethargy 
  3. Refusal to eat or drink and/or signs of dehydration 
  4. Pain with cough, rapid breathing or respiratory distress
  5. Purulent or bloody discharge from the nose
  6. Persistence of symptoms beyond 14 days despite having none of the above

The goal of treatment with antibiotics is to address a secondary infection from bacteria in the sinuses, ears, throat and chest. The reason to hold off on antibiotics, if you can, is to prevent the occurrence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. We want antibiotics to work when they are needed, so we try not to over use them. 

 DR. CATHERINE PHILLIPPI is a pediatrician at TrustCare Kids in Gluckstadt, MS. Visit to learn more.

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