What’s Going Around | Children’s colds vs sinus infections: How to tell the difference

WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — As we hit the peak of the winter season, there’s no shortage of contagious viruses making kids sneeze, wheeze and cough right now. So, how do you know if your child is suffering from a common cold or a sinus infection?

It’s a question facing a lot of parents this winter. A Prince George’s County pediatrician spells out symptoms parents need to look out for.

Dr. Yolandra Hancock said she’s had a lot of parents reaching out about their kids not feeling well with a runny nose.

“So when mucus is clear, that’s either signs of allergies or signs of the early stages of a respiratory infection, particularly what we call an upper respiratory infection. And by that, I mean from the neck up through the nose. When we have an infection, whether it be viral or bacterial, the color of the mucus can change. It simply means the body is doing what it’s supposed to do to fight off the cootie,” she said.

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A lot of parents are also inquiring about when their child needs antibiotics.

“I often do get calls about antibiotics, particularly when the mucus has changed colors. For a lot of families that’s concerning and as it should be. The color of the mucus does not necessarily dictate that we need to start them on antibiotics. It really is whether or not they meet the criteria for a sinus infection. If it’s been ten days or longer with yellowish-green discharge, if they’re having fever or they’re having sinus pressure in their face.  Often they’ll actually have bad breath because the sinus and the nose cavity in the mouth are all interconnected for those reasons. Then we will likely put them on antibiotics. But when it comes to a discolored mucus with a cold, that’s not necessarily going to make them feel any better,” Dr. Hancock said.

Dr. Hancock said the first thing she always talks with parents about concerning antibiotics is to give them as prescribed.

“So if we recommend it, be given twice a day for ten days, your child starts to look better after three days. That’s not the time to start to stop the antibiotic. That simply means that it’s working. You want to take it for the full course because that allows enough antibiotic to get inside the body to fight off and then kill the bacteria that’s causing the infection,” she said.

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