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Complications of the Common Cold

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Colds and Bronchitis (Chest Cold)

Acute bronchitis (sometimes called a chest cold) is an inflammation and irritation of the airways caused by a bacterial or viral infection. With bronchitis, you may have a cough with production of mucus, which may be thick and yellow or occasionally blood-streaked, or you may experience shortness of breath. Most people recover without medical treatment. If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor or get medical treatment immediately. Also call your doctor if you have chronic lung problems or asthma and you have any of these symptoms.

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

Sore Throat and Tonsillitis

Sore throats are common when you have a cold. With a sore throat, it can be hard to swallow and eating may be uncomfortable. While a sore throat with a cold is usually caused by a virus, strep throat is a common bacterial infection caused by the streptococcus bacteria. Tonsillitis, which is also painful, is caused by either a virus or bacterium (usually Streptococcus pyogenes). Call your doctor if your sore throat is not getting better, you have difficulty swallowing, or it is very painful.

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

Colds and Ear Infections

Ear infections are another common cold complication. For the bacterial-related infections, the culprit is usually the Streptococcus bacteria, which causes more than 7 million cases of ear infection each year in the U.S. With an ear infection, you may have ear pain, difficulty sleeping, trouble hearing, fever, or ear drainage.

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

Colds and Chronic Medical Conditions

If you have a chronic illness such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, emphysema, or HIV/AIDS, catching a cold can lead to a more serious health problem. That’s why it’s important to know the prevention and treatment steps to take before you come down with cold symptoms.

For in-depth information, see WebMD’s Colds and Chronic Medical Conditions.

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