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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Complications of the Common Cold

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You’ve got a cough, your throat’s sore, and your nose is stuffed up. Sounds like a cold, right?

It might be something more than that if you’ve been sniffly for over a week, or if your symptoms seem to be getting worse. Here’s how to get a sense of what might be making you feel under the weather.

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

Test Your Cough IQ

Do you hear that coughing sound? It's cold and flu season, and people all around you are coughing. Why? "Coughing is a normal, protective reflex," says Neil Schachter, MD, author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu. "We cough to clear our airways," he explains. Think of coughing as a defense mechanism designed to rid your lungs and windpipe of substances that don't belong there. In the case of colds, this intruder is usually mucus, which builds up more than the airways can comfortably...

Read the Test Your Cough IQ article > >

Is It Just a Common Cold?

These typically last 3 to 10 days. You could have symptoms like:

Try to rest up while the cold runs its course. There's probably no need to call your doctor unless your symptoms are severe or you have other medical problems.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Pick up the phone if you have any of these symptoms. It could mean you have something more than a cold:

  • Fever higher than 102 F with tiredness and body aches
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe sinus pain in your face or forehead
  • Swollen glands in your neck or jaw

Call 911 for any of these problems:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Fainting or feeling faint
  • Feeling foggy or confused

What Else Could It Be?

Sometimes a cold causes swelling in the nose or lungs. That can lead to other problems, like these:

Sinus infection (sinusitis): This happens when a cold virus infects your sinuses -- the hollow areas in the bones of your cheeks, forehead, and under your eyes. These areas swell, and your body makes more mucus. It’s a perfect place for bacteria to grow and thrive. You may get a headache, fever, and some or all of these symptoms:

  • A severely stuffed up nose
  • Less sense of smell and taste
  • Thick yellow or green mucus
  • Achy teeth
  • Pain or pressure near your sinuses that gets worse when you bend over
  • A cough that’s worse at night
  • Bad breath

See your doctor if these symptoms are severe, you still feel bad after 7 days, or if you get better and then get worse.

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