Guide to Upper Respiratory Infections

June 7, 2010 | Health Advice | By: Ben Legler | Tags:

Have you ever risen in the morning and just known you were coming down with something? You ache all over, feel hot then cold, have a little tickle in the back of your throat? Sure sounds like the common cold, but how can you be sure? Here’s your guide to deciding if you need a doctor’s visit or just some chicken noodle soup.

The common cold really describes a bunch of symptoms caused by many different viruses. The average adult can expect to contract two to three colds a year while the average child often quadruples that number. The common cold usually causes a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion but may also be heralded by a sore throat that typically goes away pretty quickly. While a cold will normally last up to a week, symptoms such as coughing and sneezing may last a couple of weeks.

How do I treat my cold?

Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” for treating the viruses that cause the common cold. As a result, treatment of a cold often involves fighting symptoms with decongestants, antihistamines and pain relievers such as Tylenol, which also helps reduce fever. Colds that lead to coughs can often be treated with Mucinex (Guaifenesin) or a cough suppressant. Increasing fluid intake is also key to quickening recovery. Remember that people with chronic health problems, especially high blood pressure or diabetes, will need to select cold medicines carefully. Be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor before trying an over-the-counter cold medicine if you have either of these conditions.

What are the warning signs that I may have something more serious than a cold?

Some important things to watch for include: 1) Symptoms that continue to worsen rather than get better after the first 4-5 days. 2) A persistent fever (more than three days) greater than 100.4 degrees. 3) Considerable shortness of breath associated with a productive cough. 4) A sore throat that lasts more than 24 hours and is associated with nausea. If these signs are present, it is generally a good idea to see your doctor.

This article contributed by Ben Legler, KU Medical Student.