Cold, Flu, and Kids

Chicken soup, yes; antibiotics, no: What not to do about colds and flu

It’s the cold and flu season. Your child’s nose has been running for three days, he’s coughing and he has a sore throat. Does he need antibiotics? Probably not.

“Colds and flu are caused by viruses, and antibiotics don’t work against viruses,” says Evelyn Reis, MD, a pediatrician at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. “Using antibiotics when they’re not necessary can reduce their effectiveness in your child when they are needed.”

There are times, however, when you may need to call your child's doctor. A cold is usually a mild illness, and symptoms include runny nose, cough and sore throat. The flu, on the other hand, can be more serious. It usually starts suddenly with fever, chills and muscle aches, and can lead to complications, including pneumonia.

“Call your doctor if you notice difficulty breathing, dehydration, fever lasting longer than three days, lethargy or any other symptom that concerns you,” says Dr. Reis.“But for most children with cold or flu, just focus on relieving symptoms. Use only nonaspirin pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and always follow package directions. Frequent handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread of colds or flu.”

A flu vaccine is available and should be given to high-risk children (those with asthma, suppressed immune systems or heart disease). Now is the best time for a flu shot, so call your child’s doctor for advice.