Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Colds (for Teenagers)
Description of a Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection, or URI)
- runny or stuffy nose
- usually a fever and sore throat
- sometimes a cough, hoarseness, red eyes, and swollen
lymph nodes in the neck.
- Vasomotor rhinitis: Many people have a profusely runny
nose in the wintertime when they are breathing cold air.
The nose usually stops running within 15 minutes after you
come indoors. It requires no treatment beyond a
handkerchief and has nothing to do with infection.
- Chemical rhinitis: Chemical rhinitis is a dry stuffy nose
that results from using vasoconstrictor nosedrops too
often and too long (longer than 1 week). It will be
better a day or two after you stop using the nosedrops.
A cold or upper respiratory infection is a viral infection of
the nose and throat. The cold viruses are spread from one
person to another by hand contact, coughing, and sneezing.
Colds are not caused by cold air or drafts. There are many
different viruses that cause colds. Most healthy teenagers
get at least three colds a year.
Usually the fever lasts less than 3 days, and all nose and
throat symptoms are gone in a week. A cough may last 2 to 3
Watch for signs of secondary bacterial infections such as
earaches, yellow drainage from the eyes, sinus pressure or
pain (often indicating a sinus infection), or difficulty
breathing (often a sign of pneumonia).
Not much can be done to affect how long a cold lasts.
However, we can relieve many of the symptoms. Keep in mind
that the treatment for a runny nose is quite different from
the treatment for a stuffy nose.
- Treatment for a runny nose with a lot of discharge
Sniffing and swallowing the secretions is probably better
than blowing because blowing the nose can force the
infection into the ears or sinuses. Nasal discharge is
the nose's way of getting rid of viruses. Medicine is
not helpful unless you have a nasal allergy.
- Treatment for a dry or stuffy nose with only a little
discharge or dried, yellow-green mucus
Most stuffy noses are blocked by dry mucus. Blowing the
nose alone cannot remove most dry secretions.
Nosedrops of warm tap water or saline are better than
any medicine you can buy for loosening up mucus. Use a
clean dropper to put drops into the nose. Water can be
splashed in or dripped in using a wet cotton ball.
The main mistakes people make when they use warm-water
nosedrops are not putting enough water in their nose,
not waiting long enough for secretions to loosen up
before blowing their nose, and not repeating the
procedure until their breathing is easy. The front of
the nose can look open while the back of the nose is all
gummed up with dried mucus.
Use the nasal washes at least 4 times a day or
whenever you can't breathe through your nose.
- Treatment for associated symptoms of colds
- Fever: Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches or
mild fever (over 102 degrees F, or 38.9 degrees C).
- Sore throat: Use hard candies and warm chicken
- Cough: Use cough drops and a humidifier in your
- Red eyes: Rinse frequently with wet cotton balls.
- Prevention of colds
A cold is caused by direct contact with someone who
already has a cold. Over the years we are all exposed to
many colds and develop some immunity to them.
A humidifier prevents dry mucous membranes, which may be
more susceptible to infections.
Vitamin C, unfortunately, has not been shown to prevent
or shorten colds. Large doses of vitamin C (for example,
2 grams) cause diarrhea.
- Common mistakes in treating colds
Most nonprescription cold remedies or tablets are
worthless. Nothing can make a cold last a shorter time.
If your nose is really running, consider using a pure
antihistamine (for example, chlorpheniramine products).
Especially avoid drugs that have several ingredients
because there is a greater chance of side effects from
these drugs. Use acetaminophen for a cold only if you
also have a fever, sore throat, or muscle aches.
Do not take leftover antibiotics for uncomplicated colds
because they have no effect on viruses and may be
Call Your Physician Immediately If:
- Breathing becomes difficult AND no better after you clear
Call Your Physician During Office Hours If:
- The fever lasts more than 3 days.
- The nasal discharge lasts more than 10 days.
- Your eyes develop a yellow discharge.
- You have an earache or sinus pain.
- Your throat becomes quite sore (get a throat culture).
- You have other questions or concerns.