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The ever-dreaded cold: When to call the doc, and why sometimes, you should treat at home

JACKSON, MISS– With changing seasons come allergy problems, colds, and sinus infections. The knee-jerk reaction, after saying “ugh, I feel like garbage” is to usually run to the doctor. 

This reporter is not ashamed to admit that a scratchy throat, or the slightest congestion, is enough to turn me from a mature, dependable adult to something resembling a fussy, teething toddler who is also upset that you won’t sing Itsy-Bitsy spider. Again. To preserve the sacred “personal time off” and not get behind at the office happenings, I’ll rush to my doctor as soon as I notice symptoms.

But that’s not always the best option for treating whatever may be ailing you. News Mississippi sat down with a doctor to discuss how to better understand the symptoms, and when it’s time to call the doctor.

“You can differentiate between a cold and allergies,” said Dr. Joyce Olutade at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “I’ll ask a patient if this happens at the same time every year, and if it does, they can get started on an allergy medication, such as Loratadine.”

Allergy medications such as Claritin, Zyrtec, or Flonase can be obtained over the counter. Dr. Olutade said if you start an allergy regimen but still have problems, then see your doctor, because you may need a prescription.

“But give the meds time to work,” said Olutade. “I tell patients for fall allergies, as soon as the leaves begin to fall, go ahead and start your medication. It needs about two weeks to get into your system.”

Dr. Olutade added that with allergies, the symptoms will persist if untreated. You’ll have watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. With a cold, you’ll have those symptoms as well, but they’ll progress, and you may also experience coughing, hoarseness, congestion, sinus drainage, and mucus could change colors from clear to green or yellowish.

“A cold could last about a week,” said Dr. Olutade. “and the cough from a cold could last about two or three weeks.”

Rushing to the doctor isn’t always the best call, according to Olutade, because you could treat the common cold at home. However, for children or the elderly, if there is any fever present with cold symptoms, it is best to head to the doctor as immune systems are weaker.

“For a cold, a doctor may give you a shot and a prescription, but the shot is usually the last resort,” said Olutade. “In my practice, we give the steroid shot to people if they absolutely cannot miss work, or if their job relies on their voice and they are experiencing hoarseness.”

Dr. Olutade said that often, a doctor will administer a shot or write a prescription for a patient because they have so many other patients to see, and because the patient in front of them may react poorly to not getting a shot or prescription.

“Patients will rate us,” said Dr. Olutade. “And they’ll say they’re not satisfied with the treatment. But they’ll say it’s because we didn’t give them what they wanted.”

Olutade said that in her opinion, doctors are quick to write prescriptions or order injections to please the patient, but in the end, it only hurts the patient in the end.

Since colds are viral infections, antibiotics won’t work. The antibiotics should only be used for bacterial infections.

“People build up resistance against antibiotics,” said Olutade. “Zpack, for example, is a popular antibiotic regimen. But over time, patients develop a tolerance. When one Zpack used to do the trick, you’re seeing patients still sick after the dosage.”

Dr. Olutade said the best practice for an antibiotic is to write the prescription, but do not write it unless you get worse.

“I even tell patients to call me if you get worse,” said Dr. Olutade. “I’m not going to ask you to come back in. I’ll call you in the prescription.”

When the cold has lasted for a week despite over the counter cough syrups, cold and sinus medications, and is accompanied by fever higher than 99 degrees, it is time to head to the doctor, because then you may be suffering from a sinus infection caused by bacteria.

So, when the sniffles come, the sneezing starts, and the cough just won’t quit, rushing to the doctor may be the less productive and more expensive route. But there’s one more tip Dr. Olutade shared in treating your cold.

“Take the time to rest,” said Dr. Olutade. “You may be short on sick days, and you may be trying to work through it, but you’re only causing the symptoms to stick around for longer that way. Just get rest, drink fluids, and keep an eye on your symptoms.”

 

 

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