Ear, nose and throat

Rhinovirus Infections

Rhinovirus Infections

Rhinovirus (rhin means “nose”) infections cause the common cold. 

Rhinoviruses may also cause some sore throats, ear infections, and infections of the sinuses (openings in the bone near the nose and eyes). They may also cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis, but this is less common.

​Most children have about 8 to 10 colds during the first 2 years of life. If a child spends time in child care settings where he or she is near other children with colds, the child may catch even more colds. 

Rhinoviruses easily pass from one person to another. When a child with a rhinovirus infection has a runny nose, the liquid from her nose get on to her hands and from there on to tables, toys, and other places. Your child might touch the hands or skin of another child or toys that have the virus on it and then touch her own eyes or nose, infecting herself. She might also breathe in viruses that are in the air when a sick child sneezes or coughs.

Even though your child can get a cold at any time of the year, these infections are most common during the fall and spring.

What happens when a child gets a cold?

Most people know the signs and symptoms of the common cold. Your child’s cold may start with a watery, runny nose that looks like a clear liquid. Later, the discharge becomes thicker and is often a brownish, gray, or greenish color. These colors are normal to see as the child begins to get better from a cold.

When your child has a cold, you may also see:

  • Sneezing
  • A mild fever (101°F–102°F or 38.3°C–38.9°C)
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • A decrease in appetite

In some children, you may see pus (whitish mucus) on the tonsils, which could be a sign of a type of infection caused by a bacteria (Streptococcus).

Usually a child who has a rhinovirus infection won’t have any signs or symptoms for the first 2 to 3 days. Once the symptoms start, they usually last for 10 to 14 days, but sometimes the child will get better faster than that.

What can I do to help my child feel better?

When your child has a cold, make sure he or she gets enough rest and drinks extra fluid if he or she has a fever. If your child is uncomfortable, talk to his or her doctor about giving acetaminophen to lower the fever. Don’t give over-the-counter cold and cough medicines without first checking with your doctor. Over-the-counter medicines do not kill the virus and, most of the time, will not help your child feel better.

When should I call my child’s doctor?

If your baby is 3 months or younger and gets cold symptoms, talk with your child’s doctor. Young children are more likely to get sicker from colds, including getting pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Older children usually don’t need to be seen by a doctor when they have a cold.

Call the doctor if your older child has symptoms such as:

  • Lips or nails that turn blue
  • Noisy or difficult breathing
  • A cough that doesn’t get better 
  • Very tired
  • Ear pain, which may mean that your child has an ear infection

How can I tell when my child has a cold?

You can tell your child has a cold based on watching his or her symptoms. In general, lab tests (like blood tests or throat cultures) are not needed to find out what kind of infection a child with cold symptoms has.

How can I treat my child’s rhinovirus infection?

Most rhinovirus infections are mild, and no medication is needed. Antibiotics do not work for the common cold and other infections caused by viruses.

What can I do to keep my child from getting a rhinovirus infection?

Keep infants younger than 3 months away from children or adults who have colds.

Make sure your child washes his or her hands often. This will decrease the chances he or she will get the virus.

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