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Should I let it run its course? When to go to the doctor for a cold

Should I let it run its course? When to go to the doctor for a cold

If you have a runny nose, sore throat or just don’t feel your best, you may wonder when to go to the doctor for a cold. In most cases, a cold is nothing to worry too much about. However, some situations call for a doctor’s appointment. Knowing what to expect from a cold and what symptoms may spell trouble can help put your mind at ease so that you can focus on resting.

Cold symptoms

Colds are common viral infections that usually happen during colder months. There are several different cold viruses. Unlike the flu, cold viruses start slowly, with symptoms that get worse over a few days.

Most adults will have two to four colds a year. Still, it can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19, a cold or the flu.

All colds cause inflammation in the nose and throat. This inflammation is evidence that your immune system is hard at work fighting the cold virus. A stuffy or runny nose is a common symptom of a cold, as is:

  • A sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Mild aches and pains
  • Sneezing

Occasionally, colds can also cause:

  • A low fever
  • Extra tiredness
  • Mild chest congestion or discomfort

Unlike COVID-19 or the flu, colds are generally mild and do not cause severe or life-threatening symptoms.

How to treat a cold

There aren’t any medications that are approved to cure or shorten a cold. However, over-the-counter decongestants or pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help manage symptoms.

If you take other medications, check with your doctor or a pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications for cold symptoms.

Drinking plenty of fluids and getting a lot of rest can help your body fight off the cold. Other things that may help include:

  • A neti pot or other nasal rinsing device
  • Eating a half teaspoon of honey before bed
  • Gargling warm salt water
  • Using a humidifier or mist vaporizer

Most colds start to get better after about a week, but it may take two to three weeks to completely go away. A cough is often the symptom that hangs on the longest.

Even if your symptoms are mild, you can spread your cold when you cough or sneeze or by touching a surface like a countertop or doorknob after touching your face, nose or mouth. Avoid close contact with others and stay home from work to help prevent the spread of the virus. Washing your hands frequently will also help stop the virus from spreading.

When to go to the doctor

While colds aren’t usually severe, bacteria may spread in your body when you have a cold. This can lead to bronchitis, an ear infection or a sinus infection that needs to be treated by your primary care provider.

Rarely can these infections cause more serious illnesses like pneumonia. People with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease or immune system disorders, are more likely to develop serious illnesses.

Adults should seek medical attention if they have:

  • A fever of 105 degrees or more that doesn’t respond to treatment
  • A fever that lasts more than 72 hours
  • Have severe symptoms
  • Symptoms for more than ten days that aren’t improving
  • Symptoms that start to improve and then get worse again

Seek immediate medical attention if you:

  • Are short of breath, have trouble breathing or have blue lips or nails
  • Experience worsening symptoms of a chronic condition
  • Have chest pain
  • Have a seizure
  • Show signs of confusion

East Jefferson General Hospital primary care and family medicine providers offer same-day appointments for those who need them.

If you aren’t feeling well, request an appointment with an East Jefferson General Hospital primary care doctor today.