The CDC says that colds are the most common reason for missed work and school, since adults have about two or three each year. Because colds are a common mild problem that can be treated with rest and OTC medications, it may seem like they don't warrant visits to urgent care facilities. However, a cold can develop into a more serious infection if you aren't careful. You may also mistake your symptoms for a cold when it's a more serious issue.
Here are some differences between the common cold and other similar illnesses and when it's best to seek out professional care.
The Common Cold and Bronchitis
Cold viruses affect your upper respiratory tract, meaning that you can have a runny nose, sore throat, and a cough. Bronchitis is actually very similar to the common cold, since it is also a viral infection that doesn't need antibiotics; and, it usually goes away within a week or two.
However, bronchitis may feel worse than a cold since it affects your lower respiratory tract (hence the term "chest cold"). Bronchitis causes inflammation to the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs, can cause chest tightness, lots of mucous, and intense coughing fits.
If you have bronchitis, you may need to seek out help from an urgent care facility if you have one of the following complications:
- You are very dehydrated
- You have asthma
- You are sensitive to poor air quality
- You smoke regularly (can cause chronic bronchitis that lasts months)
The Common Cold and Strep Throat
While strep throat may initially feel like a cold with a sore throat, headache, and fatigue, it's actually a bacterial infection, not a virus. The telltale sign of strep throat are swollen lymph nodes in the neck. If you open your mouth, you'll be able to see inflammation in the throat. Unlike those with a cold, people with strep throat don't have runny noses or drainage.
If you suspect strep, you should see an urgent care doctor so they can get a swab of your throat to send to the lab. If it turns out you have strep, you'll usually be prescribed an oral antibiotic, like amoxicillin or penicillin. If your doctor says it's okay, then OTC medications like ibuprofen can be taken for any fever or soreness.
The Common Cold and Pneumonia
While bronchitis causes inflammation to your air passages, pneumonia causes fluid to fill in the lungs. Pneumonia causes wheezing, fever, dehydration, chills, and lots of mucous. It isn't always serious and usually clears up on its own within a month. While you may be fatigued with the common cold, pneumonia is usually worse and requires more rest. If you have other diseases or are a senior, then you should definitely go to an urgent care facility to be on the safe side. Again, while pneumonia can pass on its own, seniors and those with other health conditions can have complications with pneumonia.
Lastly, a good rule of thumb is if you aren't sure if you have a cold or something else, then you should visit an urgent care center for a quick check-up. If you have a high fever, vomiting, or worsening symptoms, it's important to see a doctor right away.