Common Cold (cont.)

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Are antibiotics a suitable treatment for the common cold?

No. Antibiotics play no role in treating the common cold. Antibiotics are effective only against illnesses caused by bacteria, and colds are caused by viruses. Not only do antibiotics not help, but they can rarely also cause severe allergic reactions that can sometimes be fatal. Furthermore, using antibiotics when they are not necessary has led to the growth of several strains of common bacteria that have become resistant to certain antibiotics. For these and other reasons, it is important to limit the use of antibiotics to situations in which they are medically indicated.

Occasionally, a bacterial infection such as sinusitis or a middle ear infection can develop following the common cold, however the decision to treat with antibiotics should be determined by a physician or health-care professional after a medical evaluation.

When should a health-care professional be consulted?

Generally, the common cold can be treated at home and managed with over-the-counter medications. However, if more severe symptoms develop, such as shaking chills, high fever (greater than 102 F), severe headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or failure to improve after 10 days, consult a health-care professional immediately. Infants 3 months of age or younger who develop a cold or fever should be seen by their health-care professional as well.

If a sore throat and a fever are present with no other cold symptoms, the individual should also be evaluated by a health-care professional. This illness may be strep throat, a bacterial infection requiring treatment with antibiotics.

Finally, if there is facial pain and yellow/green drainage from the nose accompanied by a fever, it is possible that the individual has a sinus infection (sinusitis) that would benefit from a medical evaluation and a possible course of antibiotics.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2014

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