Colds: When To Worry
A cold is a viral infection of the nose, throat and sinuses. Symptoms start to improve in 3 or 4 days unless your child develops a complication. Minor cold symptoms such as a congested nose can normally last 1 to 2 weeks. Call your child’s healthcare provider if any of the following changes occur:
- First: The eyelids develop a yellow discharge or are stuck together after a nap. This means your child needs some antibiotic eye drops.
- Second: Your child acts like he’s having an ear ache or is unusually cranky. This points to an ear infection. So does a yellow or cloudy discharge coming from the ear canal. An ear infection is the most common complication of a cold.
- Third: Your child develops pressure or pain on the face overlying a sinus (that means around the eye or over the cheekbone). Your child can’t breathe through the nose because it’s blocked with thick yellow secretions that can't be removed with nasal washes. The openings of the nose become raw and scabbed over. Any of these mean your child could have a sinus infection.
- Fourth: Your child develops difficulty breathing that is not better after you clean out his nose. This means he could be getting pneumonia.
- Fifth: The fever lasts for more than 3 days. This increases the chances that your child has developed a bacterial complication, such as an ear or sinus infection.
- Sixth: Yellow or green nasal secretions are over-rated. They are a normal part of the body’s reaction to a cold. As an isolated symptom, they do not mean your child has a sinus infection.
In summary, we didn’t mean to overly alarm you. Only 5 to 10% of children develop any of these complications. And all of them can be easily treated with an antibiotic. Knowing that your child doesn’t have any of these symptoms will help you sleep better.
If you think your child may need to be seen, call your healthcare provider for advice.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 7/1/2005
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.