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Cold Symptoms vs. Sinusitis

Question of the Week

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Updated January 21, 2008

Q. I have a 1 year old son and he started off with just clear runny nose and sneezing, and by the night time I noticed the mucus was green coming out of his nose. He has no other symptoms. Should I be concerned about taking him in the doctor or is there something I could give him over-the-counter? Sylvia, Los Lunas, New Mexico

A. Those sound like the typical symptoms of a simple cold. Although parents often think that green mucus means that it is a sign of a sinus infection, an upper respiratory tract infection caused by a cold virus can also cause a green runny nose.

Other symptoms of a cold can include a cough, fever, and sore throat. And these symptoms typically worsen over the first 5 to 7 days and then gradually improve over the next week.

To be diagnosed with a sinus infection, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child should have cold symptoms for more than 10 to 14 days or should seem ill, with severe symptoms, including a fever above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, for more than 3 or 4 days.

Since your child's symptoms just started, he likely just has a cold. Among the symptoms that might indicate something more concerning and which would be a good reason to see your Pediatrician include also having a high fever, persistent cough, trouble breathing, not eating, or being irritable. With those other symptoms, in addition to still being just a cold, a child could have an ear infection, pneumonia, or bronchiolitis, or other secondary infection.

Cold Medicines

So should you give him a cold medicine? Unfortunately, as tempted as you might be to give your baby a cough and cold medicine to try and help her feel better, no over-the-counter cold medicines are FDA approved for younger infants or have been proven to actually improve cold symptoms. Even the ones with images of infants and babies on their packages aren't really approved for young children.

In fact, in discussing cough and cold medicines, the FDA reports that "questions have been raised about the safety of these products and whether the benefits justify any potential risks from the use of these products in children, especially in children under 2 years of age."

Also keep in mind that cold medicines will only help to control your child's symptoms, but won't help him to get better any faster. They can also have side effects, like drowsiness and irritability. See our guide to Kids' Cold Medicines for more information.

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