Colds and flu

06 March 2019

Colds: when to see a doctor

While most colds can be treated at home, there are certain circumstances that warrant a visit to the doctor.

In healthy adults, medical attention should be sought if symptoms persist for more than 10 days without improvement, or if severe or unusual symptoms are present.

Symptoms to watch out for:

  • Persistent nasal symptoms without improvement for more than 10 days.
  • Fever of more than 39 degrees or nasal discharge that’s yellow or green for more than 3-4 days.
  • Worsening symptoms: exacerbation of cough; new onset or recurrence of fever.

In children, medical attention should be sought immediately in the following cases:

  • Infants younger than 3 months of age with a fever.
  • Refusal to drink anything for a prolonged period.
  • When the child is very irritable or lethargic.
  • If there’s difficulty breathing, rapid breathing or the child seems to be working hard to breathe.

Consult your doctor if your child develops any of the following:

  • Fever of more than 38.4 degrees for longer than 3 days.
  • Nasal congestion that doesn’t improve or which worsens over 10-14 days.
  • Red eyes or yellow discharge from the eyes.
  • Symptoms of ear infection are present: pain, ear-pulling or fussiness.

Reviewed by Cape Town-based general practitioner, Dr Dalia Hack. March 2019.


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Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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