In most cases, the common cold won’t require a visit to the doctor. Symptoms typically go away within one to two weeks. However, the Centers for Disease Control recommend seeing your doctor if you or your child has a fever over 100.4 F (any level in infants under three months), if over-the-counter medications aren’t helping, or if symptoms have lasted more than 10 days (CDC). You may have developed a secondary infection such as bronchitis, ear infection, or pneumonia.
You may also want to see your doctor if cold symptoms are interfering with your daily life or with sleep.
Family practice physicians, pediatricians, and internists can all help treat the common cold. If you or your child has a cold, pay careful attention to symptoms that may signal a more severe infection or health condition. You should call your doctor or pediatrician to schedule an appointment immediately if you have:
- symptoms that do not improve or get worse after 10 days
- a fever of 100.4 F or higher
- that produces mucus
- severely swollen lymph nodes, ear pain, or vomiting
- severe sinus pain
- chest pains
- abdominal pain
- a stiff neck or extreme headache
- trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- severe dizziness or new unsteadiness
Call immediately if your child is under 3 months old and has a fever. Do not wait. Also, call if your child has:
- a high temperature (of any level for babies under 3 months and 100.4 F for those 3 months and older)
- a fever for more than three days
- symptoms that last more than 10 days or appear to be worsening
- a blue or gray tint to his or her skin, especially around the lips, nose, and fingernails
- ear pain
- abdominal pain or vomiting
- swollen lymph nodes
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- a stiff neck or severe headache
- no thirst, poor fluid intake, and decreased urination
- trouble swallowing or excessive drooling
- a persistent cough
- more crying bouts than normal
- unusual levels of fatigue or irritability
Go to the emergency room immediately if:
- you or your child has a fever of 103 F or higher or if any fever lasts for more than three days
- you or your child has difficulty breathing or swallowing
- you or your child’s skin has a blue tint or is turning a bluish color
- you or your child has a stiff neck, severe headache or abdominal pain
Pediatricians have completed additional years of training specializing in caring for the health of children. A pediatrician will be able to diagnose and prescribe the appropriate treatment for a child suffering from the common cold. If there is another underlying health condition, he or she will be able to refer the child to the appropriate specialist.
An otolaryngologist is a physician trained in the medical and surgical treatment of the ears, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. An ENT specialist must complete five additional years of specialty training beyond a general surgery residency. Some ENT specialists opt for a subspecialty requiring even more extensive training in a specific field including pediatric otolaryngology, rhinology (specializing in the nose), or laryngology (specializing in the throat).
During the cold and flu season, doctors are very busy and sometimes your appointment may be brief. Therefore, preparing some information and questions before your visit may help ensure you cover all relevant information concerning you or your child’s illness.
Consider preparing a list of cold symptoms and how long they have lasted. Consider also listing whether you’ve been exposed to other ill individuals and their symptoms as well. Write down other medical conditions you or your child has as well as current medications.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends writing down any questions you may have for your doctor. They suggest the following questions:
- What do you think is the most likely cause of these signs and symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes?
- Are any tests needed?
- What treatment approach do you recommend?
- Are there any treatments that should be avoided?
- How soon do you expect symptoms to improve?
- Am I or my child contagious? When is it safe to return to school or work?
- What self-care steps might help?
- I/my child have other health conditions. How can they best be managed together?