By Mary Jo Ytzen, ARNP
Most illnesses are caused by two kinds of germs: bacteria or viruses. Antibiotics can cure a bacterial infection but not a viral infection. Bacteria cause strep throat, some pneumonia and sinus infections; viruses cause the common cold, most coughs and the flu. Yellow or green mucus from the nose may not mean your child has a bacterial infection. During a viral cold it is normal for mucus to get thick and change color.
Antibiotics should not be used to treat the common cold, runny noses and most coughs. Children fight off these viral illnesses on their own. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can cause some bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotic. Resistant bacteria are stronger and harder to kill and can stay in your child’s body and can cause severe illnesses which may require stronger treatment and a possible stay in the hospital.
If your provider prescribes an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection, give your child all of the medicine. Not finishing the medicine can cause resistant bacterial to develop.
The common cold (caused by a virus) is one of the most common childhood illnesses. Your child typically may “catch” up to eight colds a year and even more if they have older siblings or attend day care. Some things you may do to help your child be more comfortable include:
1. Rest and increase fluids
2. Clear nasal secretions with a rubber suction bulb. Saline nasal drops may be used when your baby’s nasal secretions are thick or especially dry.
3. Humidify the air with a cool mist vaporizer
4. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen may be given for fever
“Get Smart: Now When Antibiotics Work”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/getsmart.
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