Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

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

H1N1 Flu: Interim Guidance for People With Heart Disease, Stroke, or Cardiovascular Disease

Clinicians and health departments should see H1N1 Flu and Patients With Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Disease and Stroke): Interim Guidance and Considerations for Health Care Providers and for State and Local Public Health Agencies. This document provides interim guidance and will be updated as needed. H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): General Information The information below is important for people with heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Maintain a...

Read the H1N1 Flu: Interim Guidance for People With Heart Disease, Stroke, or Cardiovascular Disease 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 in the mornings), body aches, coughing, and sometimes a mild fever (usually for the first 3 to 4 days). 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 higher fever.

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 (all day, not just mornings), 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 October 03, 2013

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
 
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
 
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
Slideshow
blowing nose
VIDEO
 
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Health Check
Boy holding ear
Article
 
woman receiving vaccine shot
Article
Bacterial or Viral Infection
Video
 
How To Calm Your Cough
Quiz
Sore Throat
Slideshow
 

WebMD Special Sections