When to Call the Doctor for a Cold or Flu

It can be difficult to know when to call the doctor for a cold or flu, especially since most of the time, colds and flu just have to run their course. If you experience symptoms that get better and then return, a worsening of symptoms, or if you have an underlying medical condition (such as heart disease) that is aggravated by the illness -- these are examples of when to call the doctor for a cold or flu.

When to Call the Doctor for a Cold or Flu: An Introduction

In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds and spend millions of dollars on over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. It is no wonder that people with cold or flu symptoms ask: "When should I call the doctor for a cold or flu?"
 
Most of the time, colds and flu simply have to run their course. Doctors don't typically treat colds and flu unless they become complicated. You usually don't need to call the doctor at the first signs of cold and flu, but there are times when you should.
 

Cold or Flu Complications

Doctors will look for and treat cold and flu complications, such as bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and pneumonia -- bacterial infections that may require antibiotics. For some people, colds and flu can aggravate underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease and asthma.
 
If you aren't getting any better after about a week, or your flu or cold symptoms worsen, you should call the doctor. Your viral infection may have caused enough mucus buildup to allow a bacterial infection to occur. Signs of trouble might be:
 
  • A cough that gets so bad it disrupts sleep
  • Fever that won't go down
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Pain in the face because of a sinus infection (sinusitis).
     
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