Cold vs Flu

In any given year, you’re bound to have at least one cold. According to the American Lung Association, adults get 2 to 4 colds per year while children get 6 to 8 colds per year, on average.

Most of the time, you can treat a cold at home. Symptoms usually last from 7 to 10 days. But if you aren’t getting better — or start to feel worse — you may need to call a doctor.

When Should You See Your Doctor?

If you’re wondering whether you need a doctor appointment for a cold, it helps to know what’s normal and what’s not.

Normal cold symptoms

You’re probably familiar with these symptoms already. Symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Sneezing.
  • Runny nose.
  • Coughing.
  • Congestion.
  • Sore or scratchy throat, often caused by postnasal drip.
  • Headaches.
  • Minor body aches.
  • Weakened sense of taste or smell.

Severe cold symptoms

If your cold symptoms last longer than 10 days or if you develop severe cold symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor.

Severe cold symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, and severe muscle or body aches.
  • Symptoms that are unusual, such as a rash or difficulty breathing.
  • A lingering cough, coughing all the time, or coughing uncontrollably. Even if that’s your only symptom, see a doctor for a bad cough. That’s especially true if you’re at risk of severe colds and flu.

Risks of severe cold symptoms

Certain people can develop serious illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. People at high risk of complications include:

  • Those with weakened immune systems.
  • Those who have asthma.
  • Those with other respiratory conditions, such as COPD.
  • Those with diabetes and heart disease.
  • Adults age 65 and older.
  • Children younger than age 5.
  • Pregnant women.

You should take your child to see their pediatrician if they are younger than 3 months of age and have a fever or are lethargic.

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Is It a Cold or COVID-19?

COVID-19 can have the same symptoms as flu. Some common symptoms of the Delta variant are similar to cold and allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and watery eyes.

If you’ve been in contact with anyone with COVID-19, it’s important to get tested. That way you can quarantine if you test positive and prevent virus spread.

The Benefits of MyUPMC

When you have a bad cold, the last thing you want to do is go somewhere.

MyUPMC users may not have to go to the doctor’s office for a cold. MyUPMC is a patient portal that helps you quickly connect with your UPMC provider to get care for non-emergency symptoms through a video visit and access your health information all in one place.

You can use MyUPMC to schedule video visit with your regular provider and meet with them via the MyUPMC app. You can also message with your provider on MyUPMC.

There are three ways to schedule a MyUPMC video visit:

  • Log in to your MyUPMC account and schedule an appointment with your provider.
  • Search our provider directory to find a doctor or specialist.
  • Call your provider’s office or 1-800-533-8762 to request a virtual appointment.

In a few simple steps, you can see your provider from the comfort of your own home or another location. You can also message your provider, renew medications, pay bills, and keep tabs on your upcoming appointments through MyUPMC. Access your MyUPMC account by visiting or through the free app, available in the App Store or Google Play.

Details about your MyUPMC video visit

After your virtual appointment, your doctor may suggest that you come in for bloodwork or testing. It’s possible, however, that you may only need a video visit.

In most cases, insurance will cover the cost of telehealth services such as MyUPMC. Be sure to check with your insurance provider about any co-pay or out-of-pocket costs before your visit.

Medicare also covers telehealth. For most telehealth services, you’ll pay the same amount as if you got the services in person, according to

What Can You Do at Home to Feel Better?

There’s no cure for a cold, but you can do a few things at home to feel better. Try these tips to get some relief:

  • Get plenty of rest. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Getting enough fluids keeps the lining of your nose and throat from drying out and reduces stuffy nose and congestion. If your urine is dark, that’s a sign you’re dehydrated.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. These can increase dehydration.
  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen), acetaminophen, or cold medicine. Talk to your doctor first if you have asthma, are pregnant, or have other health conditions.
  • Don’t give children aspirin. This can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious pediatric illness that causes vomiting, confusion, and lethargy. It can also lead to coma and death.
  • Avoid smoking — and stay away from others who smoke. The smoke can irritate your throat and make you cough more.
  • Don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics. Colds are viruses. Antibiotics only work against bacterial illness.
  • Saline nasal sprays can relieve cold symptoms in children and adults. They also may relieve some symptoms of acute upper respiratory infection.

Before taking any OTC medicines for a cold, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Some OTC medicines and supplements can interact with medicines you already take. If you have heart disease, some OTC medicines can have side effects, such as increased blood pressure.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

The Common Cold: Protect Yourself and Others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

What Is a Cold? American Lung Association. Link.

Telehealth. Link.

The Common Cold and Complementary Health Approaches. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Link.

Reye Syndrome. StatPearls. Link.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.