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When to see your healthcare provider for that cold

I found out quickly when I got out of school that a lot of people schedule an appointment to see their healthcare provider as soon as they get a stuffy nose, low-grade fever, or sore throat. When these patients came in to see me, most expected to get an antibiotic. According to the CDC, “antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems,”, so it might help to know how to tell the difference between a viral illness and bacterial illness.

A viral illness:

  1. usually begins with feeling achy, tired, maybe a fever of <100.5.
  2. may include a stuffy nose, sneezing, a cough and sore throat.
  3. tends to be worse the first three days or so, then you start feeling better, but may keep a stuffy nose and cough. (“I sound bad, but I feel better.”)
  4. may cause a stuffy nose, sneezing or a cough that can last up to two weeks.

With a viral illness, no antibiotic is needed. Over the counter products for symptom relief are recommended.

  1. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen is effective for sore throat, headache or body aches.
  2. Decongestants work really well for a stuffy nose (but are not recommended for people with high blood pressure).
  3. Saline nasal spray or a sinus wash work well for some people.
  4. A cough suppressant like Delsym or Robitussin can be effective.
  5. Throat spray and lozenges may be used for sore throat.
  6. Read the labels on combination products, like Tylenol Cold or Advil Sinus, to make sure you don’t double up on any ingredients.
  7. Remember, children under the age of 4 should not be given cough medications. Always read the label for age recommendations and proper dosing on any medications for children.

How do you know when to go and be seen by your healthcare provider?

  1. Fever > 100.4, or any fever that lasts longer than three days.
  2. No improvement after 7 days of being sick.
  3. Sore throat without a cough or runny nose.
  4. Symptoms that don’t improve with over-the-counter products.

Remember, it’s not the color of your mucous that means you need an antibiotic, it’s how long you’ve been sick and how bad your symptoms are. ┬íSalud!


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