When Should You See a Doctor for a Cold?

Colds are highly contagious viral infections of the nose and throat, and many of us know misery they bring — congestion, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, mild fever, and headache. But miserable as they are, most colds are minor illnesses which tend to go away within 14 days, with or without treatment.

Infants and young children get more colds than adults — typically six to 10 a year — and are more likely to run a fever and to suffer cold-related complications that require doctor visits. Children, along with the elderly, smokers, and individuals with serious health problems such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tend to suffer longer when they get colds.

When Is It More Than a Cold?

If your cold lasts much longer than two weeks or keeps coming back, allergies, sinusitis, or some other secondary infection may be the culprit.

Fever is an important sign. Colds usually aren’t associated with fever. Adults with a fever of 102 F (39 C) or higher and children with a fever of 103 F (39.5 C) and higher, should see a doctor. If your infant is younger than 3 months old and has a fever of 100 F (37.8 C) or above, go to the doctor immediately.

Serious Complications of the Common Cold

Colds can wear down your body’s natural defenses, leaving you vulnerable to health issues ranging from ear and sinus infections to strep throat, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Headaches, fever, and sinus pain could point to a sinus infection that requires treatment.

If you have symptoms such as stabbing pains in the chest, a cough that brings up colored sputum, fever, or shortness of breath you may have pneumonia and should see your doctor. If symptoms came on fast, you should seek immediate medical care.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that shares symptoms with the common cold but can cause severe symptoms in certain infants, young children, and older adults. While most people recover from RSV infection in one to two weeks, the virus is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in U.S. children under 12 months of age. Signs of breathing difficulties in infants include flaring nostrils, breathing faster than usual, straining muscles in the neck, or bluish discoloration around the lips and on fingers. If you see those things, bring them to the emergency room right away.

Checklists of Cold Symptoms to Watch For

Of course, most colds will never require an emergency room visit, but if the signs and symptom are looking questionable, it’s worth a trip. The American Academy of Family Physicians summarizes the red flags to look for:

In children:

High (above 103 degrees) fever or a fever that lasts for more than 3 days

Symptoms that last for more than 10 days

Trouble breathing, fast breathing or wheezing

Bluish skin color

Earache or drainage from the ear

Changes in mental state (such as not waking up, irritability or seizures)

Flulike symptoms that improve, but return with a fever and a worse cough

Worsening of chronic medical condition (such as diabetes or heart disease)

In adults:

A high, prolonged fever (above 102 degrees)

Symptoms that last for more than 10 days or get worse instead of better

Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

Pain or pressure in the chest

Fainting or feeling like you are about to faint

Confusion or disorientation

Severe or persistent vomiting

Severe pain in your face or forehead

Hoarseness, sore throat or a cough that won’t go away after 10 days

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.