Every year when winter starts, we become much more aware of floating germs and bacteria that can make us sick. Most of the time when you start to feel under the weather it is the common cold that’s to blame. Every now and then, however, your symptoms may be more severe than they usually are, and that could be because of the flu. In that case you may have to go to urgent care, but first read below to determine whether or not you can skip the trip to the doctor.
- How You Feel: Each year, Americans suffer from approximately one billion colds. Their most common symptoms are sneezing, a stuffy nose, and a sore throat. At times, cold sufferers also have low-grade fevers, feel achy, and are generally weak and fatigued from everything their body is going through. Discharge from your nose or in your throat can become thicker and turn into a yellow or green color as your cold progresses, but this is common and not a sign of a serious infection. Colds are typically caused by rhinoviruses and are passed through droplets in the air or by hand-to-hand contact and sharing surfaces with someone who already has a cold. If you feel the symptoms mentioned above and you were recently in physical contact with someone suffering from a cold or if you touched public spaces without washing your hands after, you likely have a cold.
- What You Should Do: Cold symptoms can last anywhere between 48 hours and 14 days, but the average person is fully recovered within 10 days. Colds generally do not turn into serious health problems like pneumonia or bacterial infections, so they do not necessarily require a visit to an urgent care center. By purchasing over the counter cold medicine, getting a lot of rest, and drinking plenty of fluids you should recover quickly without any complications.
- How You Feel: Each year an average of 5% to 20% of Americans catch the flu. Symptoms of the flu are similar to those of a cold (sore throat and a runny nose), but are intensified. You will know that you have the flu rather than a cold if you also suffer from fevers, chills, muscle and body aches, intense fatigue, a strong cough, and headaches. Flu symptoms also tend to come on abruptly while cold symptoms are more gradual. Between December and February is the height of flu season, so if you feel the above symptoms during these months that is a good indicator of the flu.
- What You Should Do: Many people recover from the flu on their own with over the counter medication and plenty of rest and are typically back to normal within two weeks. However, certain groups of people are at a higher risk for complications and they may want to seek medical attention right away to prevent the illness from worsening. These groups include children under five (and especially under two), adults over 65, people who have chronic illnesses related to the heart or respiratory system, pregnant women or women less than two weeks postpartum, and more. If you are concerned about your flu symptoms worsening (whether or not you are a member of the above mentioned groups), seek treatment at an urgent care center.
Once flu and cold season rolls around, you need to listen to your body very carefully. While many symptoms are treatable by staying in bed and treating yourself to warm soup and fruity juice, don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you feel your symptoms are getting out of control.