Woman sneezing into elbow.

Do I Need Antibiotics for Colds?

Colds are caused by viruses. There are about 200 different viruses that cause colds. Children can get 8–10 colds per year. Adults get fewer colds because they have built up immunity against some of the viruses.

Why You Don’t Need Antibiotics for Colds

Antibiotics do not work against cold viruses.

Symptoms of Colds

  • At the beginning: headache, fever, and watery eyes, followed by runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and cough.
  • Fluid from the nose is clear at first but turns thick yellow or green.

Prevention of Colds

  • Wash your hands to prevent spread of the viruses that cause colds.
  • Teach your children to wash their hands.

Management of Colds

  • Drink plenty of water, at whatever temperature is most soothing.
  • Consider using acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) if the person with the cold is uncomfortable. Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 6 months of age without first speaking to your health care provider. Please follow dosing instructions on the box or speak to a doctor or pharmacist for more information.
  • If you have a cold or are caring for someone with a cold, wash your hands often to prevent infecting others.
  • A decongestant or cough syrup might help symptoms but will not shorten the length of the cold.
    NOTE: Do not give these products to infants or children under the age of six years.
    NOTE: Decongestants and cough syrup might also contain fever reducing medication. Read labels carefully and check with your pharmacist or doctor to avoid overdosing.

Use salt-water (saline) nose drops to treat stuffiness, especially for infants and toddlers. Use commercial salt-water drops or sprays (not contact lens solution). Ask a pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions.

To use salt-water drops:

Tilt head back slightly, do not lie down. Put the tip of the dropper at the base of the nostril. Gently drip 1-2 drops of saline into one nostril. Repeat for other side. Wipe the dropper with a clean cloth or tissue after each use.

In British Columbia, you can call HealthLink BC (at 8-1-1) or visit if you need advice or are unsure of the best course of action.

Speak to your primary health care provider if you are worried by the way your child is behaving, if they are having trouble breathing, or they have a new or worsening symptom. For more information on when to seek additional medical advice please see HealthLinkBC.

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