Catching a cold usually doesn’t require a visit to the doctor, and unless there’s a complication, medication is not routinely given for the virus that causes a common cold. Antibiotics will not work on a virus. Symptoms of the common cold typically go away within one to two weeks, and any treatment would be to alleviate some of the common symptoms like stuffy nose or sore throat.
There are, however, some instances when a doctor’s visit may be necessary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend seeing your doctor if you or your child has a fever over 100.4°F. You should call your doctor immediately if your child is less than three months old and has any kind of fever.
It’s also important to see a doctor if you or your child are experiencing unusual or severe symptoms or if symptoms have lasted more than 10 days. These may be signs of a secondary infection, such as bronchitis, an 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. 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 don’t improve after 10 days or appear to be worsening
- a fever of 100.4°F or higher
- cough 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 your doctor immediately if your child is under three months old and has a fever of any temperature. Do not wait. You should also call if your child has:
- a fever of 100.4°F (for children older than three months old)
- a fever that lasts more than three days
- symptoms that last more than 10 days or appear to be worsening
- a blue or gray tint to their 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 in order to specialize 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. They will be able to refer your child to an appropriate specialist if your child has an underlying condition requiring treatment.
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).
Preparing for a doctor visit
Doctors are very busy during the cold and flu season. Your appointment may be brief. It can be useful to prepare some information and questions before your visit. Preparation for the visit can help ensure you get all the information you need.
Consider preparing a list of cold symptoms and how long they’ve lasted. Consider also listing whether you’ve been exposed to other people who are sick, as well as the symptoms they showed. Write down other medical conditions you or your child have as well as any current medications.
Here are a few questions to consider asking at your appointment:
- What seems to be causing these symptoms?
- What treatments do you recommend?
- How should I manage this condition alongside my (or my child’s) other health conditions?
- How long do you think it will take for symptoms to improve?
- When will it be safe to return to work or school?
Be sure to follow your provider’s instructions carefully. You should follow up with your doctor if symptoms worsen or fail to improve or if you have additional questions about your treatment plan.