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Should I Go to the Clinic for a Cold or Flu?

You have a terrible cold -- maybe even the flu. Do you know when to see a doctor?
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Q: I figure I'll pick up a cold or the flu at some point from all the sniffling, coughing students in my classes. How do I know when to seek medical help?

A: You're right. Because you spend a lot of time around other people, your chances of getting a cold or the flu this winter are high. Remember to wash your hands frequently and get a flu vaccine.

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

Prevent Flu: Steer Clear of Sick People

You've heard them -- flu-sick sneezers and coughers at the office, day care, shopping mall, or grocery store. Avoiding the flu is no small matter. So what can you do? One sure flu prevention tip is to avoid close contact with people who are sick. Anyone who is at high risk from the seasonal flu -- like young children and older adults -- should avoid crowds and public places during the usual flu season, from late October to mid-March. The honest truth is, in a large environment -- waiting rooms,...

Read the Prevent Flu: Steer Clear of Sick People article > >

What's the difference between colds and the flu? A typical cold causes a runny nose (the discharge is usually clear, but it could be yellow or green), body aches, coughing, and sometimes a mild fever. By day four or five, you should be well on your way to recovery.

Flu, on the other hand, can produce all those symptoms, plus headaches, fatigue, and most significantly a fever of 100 degrees or higher.

Colds and flu are both caused by viruses, not bacteria, so it's really just time that will make them go away. That said, both ailments can morph into more serious conditions, including sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep throat.

How to tell? Go to the clinic if you have sinus pressure or pain, a persistent or worsening sore throat, a deep cough that's making you hack up yellow or green phlegm, fast or difficult breathing, ear pain, or a high fever. If you think you have the flu -- and it's diagnosed quickly enough, a health care provider can give you an antiviral drug to help ease symptoms faster.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD the Magazine."

Reviewed on July 01, 2015

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