The common cold is caused by several different viruses and has thus far escaped cure or prevention. The symptoms of a cold include watery eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat and sneezing. A child may also have low-grade fever congestion and a cough. Most colds are self-limited and will run their course in 5-20 days. In general, children three months to three years old have more frequent colds (average 5-8 each year) and symptoms that last longer. Children in group settings, such as school and day care, also have more viral infections due to their greater exposure to other children.

The following links give guidelines for the symptomatic treatment of a cold.


Older Children

A child with a cold is most contagious to others in the first 72 hours of the illness. If fever is present, the child should not attend school or day care. These viral infections are usually spread by coughing, sneezing, hand-to-hand contact, and contact with contaminated objects.

Despite symptomatic treatment, colds will last an expected 5-10 days. Since they are viral infections, antibiotics are not used unless complications arise. Medicated nose drops or sprays, such as Neosynephrine or Afrin, may cause persistent nasal congestion and should not be use unless specifically recommended.

A discolored nasal discharge is not necessarily an indication for antibiotics. The nasal discharge of the common cold will typically change from a clear discharge, to cloudy, to discolored (yellow or green), then resolve without treatment. If the nasal discharge has lasted more than 10 days, is discolored and is not improving, then sinusitis may exist and a doctor should be consulted.

Colds may lead to complications or have other illnesses mistaken for them. Indications for medical attention include high fever or fever occurring several days after the onset of illness, significant sore throat, severe headache or facial pain, difficulty breathing not solved by clearing the nose, excessive sleepiness or irritability, or a child who appears more than mildly ill.


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