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Is it necessary to treat my child’s runny nose with antibiotics?

If your child has a virus, antibiotics will not help your child feel better or keep others from getting sick.

It’s winter season, which often means runny noses, sore throats, and coughs. While it’s tempting to give your child an antibiotic to get rid of sniffles, it will do more harm than good.

Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses that cause colds or runny noses, regardless of whether the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. Sometimes bacteria can cause sinus infections, but even then the infection usually clears up on its own in a week or so. Many common ear infections also clear up on their own without antibiotics.

A runny nose is a common symptom of a cold. Your child’s doctor or nurse may prescribe further medication or advise you on how to treat symptoms such as fever and cough.

What causes a runny nose?

When cold viruses invade the nose and sinuses, the nose produces clear mucus. This aids in the removal of the virus from the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, the body’s immune system responds by turning the mucus white or yellow. When bacteria that ordinarily dwell in the nose regrow during the recovery phase, they turn the mucus greenish. This is completely normal and does not indicate that your child requires antibiotics.

Why not simply use antibiotics?

Antibiotics will not help your child and may be harmful when they are not required.

  • Antibiotic use breeds resistant microorganisms. Antibiotic resistance develops when bacteria gain the ability to withstand medications that are intended to kill them.
  • Antibiotics can produce negative effects and lead to antibiotic resistance whenever they are used.
  • Antibiotic side effects can include rash, dizziness, gastrointestinal difficulties, and yeast infections.

What can I do to make my child feel better?

Consult your child’s doctor or nurse for guidance on suitable treatment. Consider the following suggestions in general:

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
  • Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporiser and saline nasal spray or drops.
  • For younger children, a rubber suction bulb can be used to clear mucus; older children can breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or a shower.
  • To alleviate coughing, use honey (if your child is at least 1 year old).
  • Inquire with your child’s doctor or pharmacist about over-the-counter medications that can relieve their symptoms.

Good to know

  • Use over-the-counter medications exactly as indicated.
  • Keep in mind that while over-the-counter medications may provide temporary alleviation of symptoms, they will not heal your child’s disease.
  • Most sore throats are caused by viruses. But some sore throats, like strep throat, are bacterial infections. Your doctor will decide if your child needs a strep test. If the test shows it is strep, then the doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

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