Is it a cold? Is it a sinus infection?


It can be hard to tell if your child has a common cold (a virus) or something more significant like a sinus infection. When should you wait it out and when should you make an appointment with your pediatrician?

Colds are common. Children get 6-10 colds a year. Only 1 in 15 children will suffer from a bacterial sinus infections during or after a cold.

Symptoms of a cold include runny nose with clear, cloudy or colored mucous. There may be a fever that lasts 1-3 days and cough, sore throat or other symptoms of the upper respiratory tract. There are three types of sinusitis:

  1. Persistent: runny nose, cough (day and/or night) that lasts for 10 days and doesn't improve or gets worse.
  2. Severe: fever over 102.2 that lasts for 3 days and nasal mucous that is thick, cloudy, or colored.
  3. Worsening: a cold starts to improve, but fever return or daytime cough or runny nose gets worse.

Talk with your pediatrician about whether or not to use antibiotics for your child's sinus infection. Kids with persistent sinusitis can either be observed to see if they improve on their own, or they can take antibiotics if they are particularly uncomfortable. All kids with severe or worsening sinusitis should take antibiotics to help them recover faster.

Consider the drawbacks of using antibiotics: vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, skin rash, allergic reaction, yeast infection. Repeated use or overuse can lead to the bacteria being resistant to the antibiotic and it gets harder to treat your child's infection.

Whenever you have a question about your child's illness, talk with your pediatrician.

Content from American Academy of Pediatrics 2013