Does this describe your child’s cold symptoms?

Cold SymptomsDefinition

  • Viral infection of the nose and throat


  • Runny or congested nose
  • The nasal discharge may be clear, cloudy, yellow or green
  • Usually associated with fever
  • A sore throat often is the first symptom
  • Sometimes associated with a cough, hoarse voice, watery eyes, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck


  • Colds are caused by several respiratory viruses. Healthy children average 6 colds a year. Influenza usually feels like a bad cold with more fever and muscle aches.
  • Colds are not serious. Between 5 and 10% of children develop a bacterial complication (ear or sinus infection).

Colds: Normal Viral Symptoms

  • Colds cause nasal discharge, nasal congestion, sinus congestion, ear congestion, sore throats, hoarse voice, coughs, croup, and red, watery eyes. When you combine all these symptoms, colds are the most common reason for calls to the doctor.
  • Cold symptoms are also the number one reason for office and ER visits. Hopefully, this information will save you time and money and help you avoid some unnecessary trips to the doctor. You can be reassured the following are normal cold symptoms and children with these symptoms don't need to be seen:
    • Fever up to 3 days
    • Sore throat up to 5 days (with other cold symptoms)
    • Nasal discharge and congestion up to 2 weeks
    • Coughs up to 3 weeks

Colds: Symptoms of Secondary Bacterial Infections

  • Using this topic, you can select out the 5 to 10% of children who have ear infections or sinus infections. Many are identified with specific symptoms and patterns. Some are suspected because symptoms last too long:
    • Earache or ear discharge
    • Sinus pain not relieved by nasal washes
    • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
    • Fever present over 3 days
    • Fever that goes away for 24 hours and then returns
    • Sore throat present over 5 days
    • Nasal discharge present over 2 weeks
    • Cough present over 3 weeks

Return to School

  • Your child can return to child care or school after the fever is gone and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities. For practical purposes, the spread of colds cannot be prevented.

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