December 2, 2022

Do I need to treat my child’s runny nose with antibiotics?

It’s the winter season, which often means runny nose, sore throat and cough. Although it’s tempting to give your child an antibiotic to get rid of the sniffles, it will do more harm than good.

Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses that cause colds or runny noses, whether the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. Sometimes bacteria can cause sinus infections, but even then the infection usually goes away on its own within about a week. Many common ear infections also go away on their own without antibiotics.

A runny nose is a common symptom of a cold. Your child’s doctor or nurse may prescribe other medicines 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 helps clear 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 the bacteria that usually live in the nose grow back during the recovery phase, they turn the mucus greenish. This is completely normal and does not indicate that your child needs antibiotics.

Why not just use antibiotics?

Antibiotics will not help your child and can be harmful when they are not needed.

  • The use of antibiotics breeds resistant microorganisms. Antibiotic resistance develops when bacteria acquire the ability to resist drugs intended to kill them.
  • Antibiotics can produce negative effects and lead to antibiotic resistance every time they are used.
  • Side effects of antibiotics can include skin rashes, dizziness, gastrointestinal difficulties, and yeast infections.

What can I do to make my child feel better?

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

  • Make sure your child gets enough rest and drinks plenty of fluids.
  • Use a clean humidifier or cool mist spray and saline nasal spray or drops.
  • For young children, a rubber suction bulb can be used to remove mucus; older children can breathe in the steam from a bowl of hot water or a shower.
  • For cough relief, use honey (if your child is at least 1 year old).
  • Ask 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 directed.
  • Remember that while over-the-counter medications may temporarily ease symptoms, they will not cure your child’s illness.
  • 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 streptococcus, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics.