To Your Health: The Common Cold

Oct 23, 2019

How common is the common cold? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the course of a year, people in the U.S. suffer 1 billion colds. But, when you’re coughing, sneezing, and miserable do you need a doctor?

Sometimes people are unsure if they have the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia...or just the common cold. To avoid an unnecessary trip to your healthcare provider and to prevent the overprescription of antibiotics, it helps to understand the difference between these illnesses.

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. In general, the symptoms of  flu are worse than the common cold. and accompanied by a fever. People who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health may want to get tested to see if they have a cold or the flu so they can begin antiviral drugs.

Bronchitis is sometimes referred to as a chest cold. It’s caused by inflammation of the bronchi, the branching tubes that deliver air into the lungs and it’s most common symptom is a mucous producing cough. However, "Over 80 to 90 percent of bronchitis in otherwise healthy people is viral, not bacterial. Thus, going to the doctor for antibiotics will not hasten the body getting rid of the virus.

Pneumonia has similar symptoms to bronchitis, but they are often much worse and include a high fever and chest pain. Because it is more often caused by bacteria than by a virus, antibiotics can be used to treat it. The AARP advises older patients, who tend to do poorly with respiratory infections, to go see their doctor right away if they have a fever and cough because bacterial pneumonia can be a fast-moving disease.