Colds and flu

Updated 06 March 2019

How are colds diagnosed?

Here's how your doctor will determine if you have a cold or, perhaps, another more serious condition.

Your healthcare professional will determine what type of illness you have by asking about your symptoms and doing a physical examination to rule out more serious conditions such as pneumonia, middle ear infection or sinusitis.

In adults, it isn’t routinely recommended that a swab is taken and sent to the laboratory to determine which virus, if any, is present and likely to be causing the cold.

This test is expensive and, because the results are not available immediately, doesn’t help with guiding treatment.

In more severe cases, or when symptoms persist beyond what’s normally expected (and sometimes with children), your doctor may want to take a swab.

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

Read more:

- Symptoms of the common cold

- How common are colds?


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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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