You’ve Been Experiencing Symptoms for More Than Three Days
According to Melisa Lai Becker, MD, site chief of emergency medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, the common cold usually clears up on its own in three to four days. It normally begins with a scratchy throat, congestion, and a runny nose, followed by a cough. Although the cough and post-nasal drip may continue, most symptoms of a head cold should subside after four days.
“With a cough, after a few days of rest, hydration, and Kleenex, you’ll feel fine,” she says.
If your symptoms last for an extended time, you may be suffering from something more severe, such as the flu or mononucleosis. Make an appointment with your doctor to be healthy.
You Returned from a Trip
According to Stella Safo, MD, an internist at Mount Sinai Hospital who specializes in infectious diseases, recent foreign travel is a red flag for doctors because it may mean you have a less common infection that they wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. If you have some problems after returning from a trip abroad, you should see a doctor.
You Have a Fever
“Can you have a fever with a cold?” is a difficult question to answer. Although getting feverish when you have a cold is possible, it’s not common—especially high fevers.
According to Dr. Lai Becker, a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher could indicate strep throat. Most strep patients will experience a high fever in the first few days of their infection, so keep an eye on your temperature if it suddenly rises. “One thing you want to differentiate between strep throat and a cough,” she says. “If left untreated, it can cause rheumatic fever and serious heart attacks.”
Even if your fever isn’t especially high, Dr. Lai Becker says that a low-grade fever for several days in a row could mean that your body is fighting off something other than a cold. A persistent fever could indicate that you have the flu or mono, so keep an eye on it even if it doesn’t seem serious.
Since nausea, as well as vomiting and diarrhea, are uncommon with a cold, these symptoms may indicate something more severe, such as the flu. If you’re having these symptoms regularly, you should seek medical help, as they can lead to dehydration, according to Dr. Mysore.
Chest Pain or Trouble Breathing
According to Dr. Mysore, while cough is a common symptom of a cold, it should not be so extreme that it causes shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest pain. These symptoms should not be ignored because breathing difficulties may indicate bronchitis or pneumonia, whereas chest pain, tightness, and sudden shortness of breath may indicate a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot blockage in the lungs).
A common cold is not a problem, but it should not cause all-over body aches and pains. The flu, on the other hand, can cause aches and pains in your muscles and body, as well as fatigue and chills.
“You’ll feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck if you have the flu,” Dr. Mysore says. Simply getting out of bed will exhaust you and leave your muscles tender and sore.
Track Your Symptoms
Because they have similar symptoms, allergies and colds can be difficult to distinguish. Allergies, on the other hand, often follow a pattern, according to Dr. Lai Becker. You most likely have allergies if you notice your symptoms worsen after spending time outside or with a pet, or if they come and go with the seasons. Dr. Lai Becker explains, “I had one patient who believed he was seriously ill, but the truth was that he was allergic to cats.”
Keep records of your symptom history and look for patterns; this could indicate that you’re allergic to something or have seasonal allergies.