Signs indicating that it’s more serious than just a cold

Most of us diagnose ourselves with a cold when feeling unwell. But its not always the case. It’s vital to be able to differentiate between the common cold and something more serious in order to get the medical attention required.

If you think you “just have a cold’’ but are worried it could be something else, its best to visit your doctor. Especially if it involves a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma, HIV or an autoimmune disease. The same applies for anyone under the age of 6 or over 65 and pregnant women – as these groups are more sensitive and prone to illnesses.

The following information is based on discussions made with doctors regarding the real differences between cold and flu symptoms. Read below the flags they look for:

If symptoms don’t disappear after 4 days

Melisa Lai Becker MD, site chief of emergency medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance mentioned that the ‘’common cold’’ usually clears up on its own in three to four days. It begins with a sore throat, runny nose and usually ends with a cough. Although your post-nasal drip and cough may loiter, most of the symptoms of a head cold would vanish after four days.

“With a cold, you ultimately feel OK after a couple days of rest, hydration, and Kleenex,” she declares.

It is possible that you may have something more troublesome if the symptoms last longer such as mononucleosis. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your physician if this is the case.

Symptoms keep coming back

According to Navya Mysore, MD, a primary care physician with One Medical Group, if your symptoms appear shortly after a recovery it could be a sign of a ‘’superinfection’’ or a rebound illness. It may have started with a cold but once the immune system was compromised, it could have developed into something more serious such as pneumonia or sinus infection. An appointment with your GP is recommended to determine the severity of the illness.

A high fever

It’s not common to have a high fever along with a cold.  One of the signs of a fever at or above 101 degrees Fahrenheit is a strep throat as Dr Lai Becker stated. Most patients with strep are prone to developing a high fever during the first few days of illness, so be cautious of rapid spikes in body temperature.

“Strep throat is one thing you really want to distinguish from a cold,” she says. “Left untreated, it can cause rheumatic fever and lead to serious heart problems.”

Low-grade fever for several days

Running a low-grade fever, even if it isn’t high, could potentially be a sign your body is trying to fight off something more than a cold, Dr Lai Becker says. Even if it doesn’t feel super intense, be diligent about checking it out.

Recent Return from International travel

This is usually a red flag for most doctors as it could mean you have a less conventional infection they wouldn’t have generally considered as Stella Safo, MD, an internist at Mount Sinai hospital, explains. It’s recommended to visit a doctor if you have any symptoms after a return from a trip abroad.

You are experiencing severe headaches

Dr.Mysore says that severe headaches, especially if they are accompanied by neck stiffness and fever, could be a sign of meningitis. On another note, headaches that are stronger around the nose and eyes may be a sign of a sinus infection she describes. These kinds of headaches can deteriorate when you lean forward because of the pressure of congested sinus passages.

Trouble breathing and chest pain

Experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath shouldn’t be ignored, these aren’t normal symptoms of a cold says Dr. Mysore. Having trouble breathing could be a sign of bronchitis or pneumonia while tightness and chest pain could be a signal of pulmonary embolism (a blood clot blockage in the lungs)

Your symptoms are in one area

“Localization” of symptoms is another red flag, in other words you feel them in one exact area, explains Dr. Safo. Although cold symptoms influence the whole upper respiratory system, other illnesses are measured by intense symptoms in a specific area.

For instance, Dr. Lai Becker explains that a strep causes a sore throat to a point where it’s not easy to swallow, but characteristically will not cause pain throughout the body.  A Sinus infection can cause headaches and even give you tooth ache, an ear infection will typically cause congestion and pain in one ear, mono may cause swollen tonsils.

A pattern exists with your symptoms

Distinguishing allergies from cold could be difficult as they both carry similar symptoms. However, allergies usually follow a pattern as Dr Lai Becker states. For example, you will most likely notice that your symptoms worsen after spending some time outdoors, or they tend to come and go during certain seasons then you mostly likely have allergies. One of Dr Lais’ patients thought he was sick but turned out he was allergic to cats.

It is recommended to keep track of your symptom history in order to notice any trends.

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