Question

Cold and Flu

When should I see a doctor for a cold or flu?

A Answers (9)

  • AStacy Wiegman, PharmD, Pharmacy, answered
    If you have symptoms of the flu, go to the doctor as soon as possible. He or she may test you for the influenza virus, although usually it's not necessary because flu symptoms are enough to make a diagnosis. If flu is diagnosed early enough, your doctor may give you an antiviral medication to speed up your recovery.
  • If you are in one of the high-risk groups, and are experiencing the symptoms of influenza, you should talk to your doctor. These groups include young children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with diabetes, heart disease, HIV, asthma, and other chronic conditions. Your doctor may want you to take antiviral medications.

    Anyone who begins to experience symptoms of pneumonia, a serious complication that can arise from influenza, should see the doctor. These symptoms may include a severe cough, high fever, breathing problems, blood or pus in the sputum, and pain when you take a breath. Other complications of the flu may include sinus or ear infections and bronchitis; you may wish to see a doctor if these develop.
  • AJoel Fuhrman, MD, Family Medicine, answered
    Flu symptoms suggesting medical consultation is necessary are:
    • Rapid breathing
    • Breathing with grunting or wheezing sounds
    • Labored breathing (in a child, rib muscles retract)
    • Abdominal pain (more common in children)
    • Changes in behavior or mental status, such as disorientation or not being alert
    • Persistent diarrhea or vomiting (more common with children), especially if unable to hold down sufficient fluids
    • Persistent fever above 103 degrees for three days
  • AKeri Peterson, MD, Internal Medicine, answered
    Dr. Keri Peterson - When should I talk to my doctor about my flu symptoms?
    If you are generally healthy, are not pregnant and don't have a high risk for flu complications, you don't need to call your doctor for flu symptoms. Watch as internal medicine specialist Keri Peterson, MD, explains the best ways to treat the flu.
  • ARealAge answered
    A call to a healthcare professional will be needed if the following signs or symptoms of flu develop:
    • fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that does not go down within 2 hours of home treatment
    • fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit accompanied by shaking chills and a productive cough (a wet, loose cough)
    • persistent fever (102 degrees Fahrenheit over 2 full days, 101 degrees Fahrenheit over 3 days, 100 degrees Fahrenheit over 4 days)
    • labored, shallow, and rapid breathing
    • mucus from the lungs that is yellow, green, rust-colored, or bloody
    • facial pain
    • continued or increasing nasal discharge regardless of color for over 7 days
    • productive cough for more than 7-10 days
    • fussy child with no appetite
    • infant or toddler who tugs at his or her ears or cries whenever lying down
    • infant or toddler who refuses to eat or drink
  • AHealthwise answered
    Call 911 or other emergency services if:
    • You are having trouble breathing, or you feel very short of breath.
    • You have a severe headache or stiff neck and are confused or having trouble staying awake.
    Call your doctor if:
    • You have an extremely high fever.
    • Your fever lasts for longer than 3 days.
    • Your child is 3 months of age or younger and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
    • You are finding it harder and harder to breathe.
    • Wheezing develops.
    • New pain develops or pain localizes to one area, such as an ear, the throat, the chest or the sinuses.
    • Symptoms do not go away, even with home treatment.
    • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
    Watchful waiting
    In most healthy people, the flu will go away in 5 to 7 days, although fatigue can last much longer. Although you may feel very sick, home treatment is usually all that is needed. If it is flu season, you may just want to treat your symptoms at home. Watch closely for symptoms of a bacterial infection, such as nasal drainage that changes from clear to colored after 5 to 7 days and symptoms that return or get worse.

    Early treatment (within 48 hours of your first symptoms) with antiviral medicines may reduce the severity of influenza and may prevent serious flu-related complications. Babies, older adults and people who have chronic health problems are more likely to have complications from the flu, and they may need to see a doctor for care beyond home treatment. But not all antiviral medicines work against all strains of the flu. Talk to your doctor if you think you may need an antiviral medicine.

    Call your doctor if you think your symptoms are caused by something other than the flu.

    Who to see
    These health professionals can diagnose and treat the flu:
    • Family physician
    • Internist
    • Pediatrician
    • Nurse practitioner
    • Physician assistant
    A doctor who specializes in treating infectious diseases may be needed if the diagnosis is not clear or if severe complications develop.

    © Healthwise, Incorporated.

  • ASusan Blum, MD, MPH, Integrative Medicine, answered
    When should I see a doctor for a cold or flu?

    The flu is usually treatable at home, but a couple of severe symptoms warrant a trip to the doctor. Preventive and functional medicine specialist Dr. Susan Blum talks about these red flags in this video.

    Helpful? 1 person found this helpful.
  • Most cold and flu symptoms will get better on their own with time and rest. But for some symptoms, it's wise to see a doctor. A doctor can make sure nothing is seriously wrong, prescribe medicine if needed, and give suggestions to help you feel better. Here are some tips for when to call.

    Fever:
    • For babies younger than 90 days (3 months): 100.4 degrees F or more
    • For babies 90 to 180 days old (3-6 months): 101.0 degrees F or more
    • For children 6 months and older: a high fever (103.0 degrees F or higher), and the child seems sick
    • Any fever that lasts 2 days or more and is not improving
    Coughing:
    • Coughing in a baby that makes it difficult to eat or sleep, especially if the baby is younger than 6 months
    • Coughing that sounds like a seal barking and interferes with breathing
    • Coughing that starts suddenly and goes for an hour without stopping
    • Cough with wheezing (whistling sound when you breathe in or out)
    • Coughing with any difficulty breathing or with chest pain
    • Coughing that lasts longer than three weeks
    Runny, stuffy nose:
    • Stuffy nose that isn't improving by 10 days or gone by 3 weeks
    • Stuffy nose with other symptoms that seem severe (like a high fever, ear pain, or cheek pain)
    Ear pain:
    • Ear pain with fever or that interferes with sleep and activities
    • Ear pain without fever that is not improving after 2 days (you may give ibuprofen for the ear pain)
    Sore throat:
    • Sore throat without other typical cold symptoms
    • Sore throat with fever, headache, stomachache, rash, or vomiting
    • Sore throat that is so severe that it's hard to swallow
    • Severe sore throat that seems worse than you'd expect with a cold
    Breathing problems:
    • Unusually fast or shallow breathing
    • Distress with breathing
    • Skin between the ribs or below the throat pulling in with each breath
    • Bluish color in the lips or fingernails
  • For most adults, the flu is a self-limiting disease and typically requires only supportive care such as taking in plenty of fluids and using over-the-counter medications for symptom relief such as fevers, cough or congestion. If you are in close contact with the elderly (more than 65 years old) or children less than 2 years old, you may need to be tested for your flu strain so that they can be given medicine to prevent them from getting the flu. The very old and the very young are at increased risk for complications when getting the flu.
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