by Dr. Jane Jurma

Antibiotic pill

I love getting asked about the role of antibiotics in treating colds because it’s a very important topic! The “common cold” is a respiratory tract infection that is caused by any number of viruses, such as rhinovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and human metapneumovirus.

The most common symptoms are cough, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, low grade fever, sore throat, headache, and just overall feeling crummy. In children, symptoms usually last for 10-14 days. The treatment is supportive, such as rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking antipyretics for fever.

Baby getting a check up

Children younger than 6 years old have around 6-8 colds per year, with that number going up to around 13 for those in daycare. In contrast, adults get about 2-4 colds per year, so don’t be surprised when your child tends to have a cold more frequently than you do. It’s expected!

So, what about antibiotics? Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Since colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics actually don’t help in the treatment of colds. So, when do antibiotics come into play? If your child spikes a new fever when initially they didn’t have one, or if they spike a new fever days after their initial fever resolved, that could mean they have a secondary bacterial infection (i.e., sinus infection, ear infection, pneumonia, etc.).

Child with fingers on nose

Other signs to look for are worsening of symptoms, persistence of nasal discharge for more than 10 days without improvement, or severe symptoms (fever >102, ill-appearing, etc.). These are the cases when antibiotics are helpful and needed.

There are two big reasons it’s important for your child to only take antibiotics when necessary:

1. All antibiotics have side effects.
Why expose your child to possible side effects unnecessarily?

2. Bacteria can grow resistant to antibiotics.
The more your child or other children in the community take antibiotics, the higher the chance that the antibiotics will eventually stop working because the bacteria have gotten used to them.

It’s important to save antibiotics for when they are absolutely needed so they can actually work and be effective when we need them.

I hope this answered some of your questions on this topic!

Feel free to ask any other questions you may have.

Dr. Jane Jurma
Dr. Jane Jurma
Mon,Tue,Thu, Fri at: Jasper office
Wed: Canton office