Is it just a cold or do I need to contact the doctor?

Colds and Flu, the GP and the Consultant Respiratory Expert offer plain English advice to people wondering "How serious is my cold?" "Is this a serious flu?" "Should I see the doctor?" As the onslaught of winter approaches many of us will succumb to a variety of wintry ailments. How aware are most people of the severity of their illness?

In his article for totalhealth, GP Dr Knut Schroeder asks:

At some stage you’re likely to start worrying and wonder what to do next. Should you not do anything? Take some pain killers? See your pharmacist? Consult your GP? Go to the nearest A&E – or, in the worst case, should you phone 999 for an ambulance?

At the same time, Respiration and Chest expert, Dr Lieske Kuitert says:

The beginning of each winter sees an increase in the number of respiratory ailments – a spectrum that ranges from the common cold through to severe pneumonia secondary to viral influenza. It is important to recognise when you should contact your healthcare professional and seek further assessment and treatment.

Dr Schroeder advises patients to look out for the 'red flags' and, if any appear, to contact your doctor. Red flags include:

  • Constant, and gradually worsening pain – or sudden and very severe pain.
  • Loss of appetite over weeks and months for no apparent reason.
  • Lumps or bumps anywhere on your body that are new and persistent (that is, lasting for more than two or three weeks) and that you can’t explain.
  • Unusual sweating (particularly at night).
  • Unexplained fever.
  • Unintentional and unexplained weight loss.

Although these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that something serious is going on, it’s best to act on them and get advice from your GP urgently.

Together these articles provide an excellent guide for patients who might be worried about 'pestering the doctor', or need to know when there might be something more serious happening to their health.

The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
The raising of the body temperature above norma, which may be accompanied by symptoms such as shivering, headache and sweating. Full medical glossary
A viral infection affecting the respiratory system. Full medical glossary
A viral infection affecting the respiratory system. Full medical glossary
Inflammation of one or both lungs. Full medical glossary
A tube placed inside a tubular structure in the body, to keep it patent, that is, open. Full medical glossary