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Got a Cold? Find Out When to Call the Doctor

After suffering for days with a runny nose, sore throat, and other cold symptoms, you may wonder if it's time to call the doctor.

Here's the good news: In most situations, cold symptoms will be over within seven to 12 days. The bad news is there are no real medical tests to determine if you, in fact, have a cold and no medical treatment to end the annoying and uncomfortable cold symptoms.

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If you have tried over-the-counter cold remedies without success, there are several prescription drugs available that may help with symptoms such as nasal stuffiness and cough.

If you have a sore throat with fever and no cold symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. This type of sore throat may be strep throat, which is a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Sore Throat: Cold, Strep Throat, or Tonsillitis?

If you have chest tightness, difficulty taking a breath, and/or wheezing, call your doctor. You may have a cold complication such as bronchitis. Or you might have asthma and a cold. In either case, your doctor may need to evaluate you to see if further treatment is necessary.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's When a Cold Becomes Bronchitis.

Also, see WebMD's Asthma and Colds.

Colds can cause an earache, mainly from congestion and swelling of the Eustachian tube, the tube that connects the ear to the throat. However, if decongestants don't help the pain or if pain persists for more than a couple of days, call your doctor. You may have an ear infection. If your doctor thinks you have a bacterial ear infection, you may be prescribed antibiotics. Many ear infections are due to viruses.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Earache: Cold or Ear Infection?

Also, if you have facial pain, tooth pain, or yellow drainage from your nose, you may have a sinus infection -- an infection of the nasal passages. While these symptoms can be present with just a cold, if you've had them for more than a week, you may need antibiotics. Make an appointment to see your doctor.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's When a Cold Becomes a Sinus Infection.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on June 11, 2012
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