When Should I Go To the Doctor for a Cold or Flu

When Should I Go To the Doctor For a Cold or Flu?

Common cold as we all know is very common and is a condition that can occur anytime without any warning. It is a viral and infectious disease that causes an infection in the upper respiratory system. The condition is also known as Viral Rhinopharyngitis or Acute Coryza. Though common cold is a common infectious condition in humans, it is important to know when you should actually see a doctor. A number of people often ask when should I go to the doctor for a cold or flu and we in this article try and answer this for you.

Though the main viruses causing common cold or flu are coronaviruses or the rhinoviruses, there are around 200 viruses that are known to cause cold in humans. This is one of the reasons why is not possible for the human body to build up the needed resistance to fight all of them. And, due to this, the cold is so common and can occur about 2-3 times in a year in adults and about 12 times in kids.

Common cold can also be dangerous can it can easily spread through touch or via air as well. It is contagious and can affect others from 1 or 2 days before the start of symptoms and also when the symptoms have ended.

Causes of Common Cold or Flu

The causes for common cold or flu can be many but it is caused due to a virus infection. It is said that more than 50% of the colds are due to the rhinoviruses. The other viruses that cause common cold are Human Parainfluenza Virus, Human Metapneumovirus, Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Enteroviruses and the Coronaviruses Adenovirus.

When the virus strikes our body, it tends to overpower the immunity system and this when the infection occurs. The very first line of defence is the mucus, and this is produced in the nose and also in the throat by the body’s mucus glands. The mucus helps by trapping anything that gets inhaled and this also includes the bacteria and the viruses. Mucus is very slippery and is produced by the mouth, the nose, and the vagina. When the mucus too is penetrated, the virus then enters the cell and uses the machinery of the cell to create more viruses, which attack and infect the other healthy cells.

Who Are at Risk?

Some people are more likely to get infected by the common cold or flu when compared to others. The people who are at risk are

  • Children who are under the age of 6 years.
  • Adults who are above 60 years of age.
  • Individuals who have a very weak immune system.
  • People who smoke a lot

Also, people who are around those who are infected are also at a huge risk of infection. People also get infected by cold or by flu when the weather is cold – in fall and in winter.

When Should I Go To the Doctor for a Cold or Flu?

There are times when you take the needed medication but the cold got better then worse. Well, this is the time you need to seek immediate medical help. The symptoms of cold or flu are quite similar and hence it is hard to differentiate between the two. It is also said that the symptoms of flu are known earlier to that of cold. Also, the symptoms of flu are intense when compared to cold. If you suspect that you have flu and not a bad cold, it is time you visit a doctor.

People who are suffering from a bad cold for more than 2 or 3 weeks and have weakness and fever also need to see a doctor immediately. Such people can also experience chills or cold sweats and have muscle pain, headache and a sore throat.

Treatment for such a condition is often done via antiviral. In case of flu, the doctor might as well suggest you take a flu shot or a flu mist to prevent further damage. Let us also have a look at some of the cold and flu symptoms that would help you make the right decision of seeing a doctor.

The below mentioned symptoms are very common when you are affected with flu but are not seen with cold always.

Headache A Headache is not common when you are suffering from cold. If you have a bad headache, you most likely have flu.

Weakness This is one of the very common symptoms of flu.

Body Pains People suffering from cold do not have bad body pains but those suffering from flu often complain of aches and pains.

Temperatures The temperatures are very high when the person has flu.

Sneezing Sneezing is a symptom of cold and does not happen when you are infected with flu.

Stuffed Up Nose This is one symptom that is common to both flu and the common cold.

CoughA  cough is more severe in those who are suffering from flu and they can also experience a dry or a sore throat.

Knowing the symptoms help you get the right treatment. While the mild cold can be treated at home using some simple home remedies, flu has to be treated using antibiotics and some antiviral medications. Normally a cold lasts for a week to ten days, but flu can last for about 2 weeks.

People suffering from cold or flu need to drink a whole lot of fluids as it helps them stay hydrated. Dehydration can make your condition worse when you have a bad cold. You can start taking needed fluids even before you consult for cough and cold medication.

Also, people suffering from cold and flu need to get a lot of rest and try to sleep as much as possible. This is important as the immune system tries to fight off the virus and it can make you feel weak. Some of the home remedies like inhaling steam, taking hot ginger tea or other herbal tea can ease off some of the painful symptoms.

So, we think we answered the question, when should I go to the doctor for a cold or flu and have also educated you about the difference in symptoms between cold and flu. The next time you are suffering from cold, know the symptoms and go see a doctor if needed.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad