Otolaryngologist Chicago | Cold and Flu Season | Chicago ENT

When To See Your Doctor During Cold Season

Sniffles? Check. Aching body and joints? Check. Sore throat and post-nasal drip? If this sounds a little too familiar, you may have a cold or the flu.

But when should you see your doctor? The answer may surprise you, so keep reading to find out more!

Is it the common cold or the flu?

Man suffering from the flu

When you’re sick, it can feel like a truck hit you repeatedly. Chances are, you don’t have a clue what you have. All you know is you feel miserable, and the only place you want to be is in your bed!

Here are some signs that you may have the flu:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Fever or experiencing chills
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache

Keep in mind, these are symptoms that usually show up in adults. In children, you may see symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea if they have the flu. This is less common when adults have the flu.

If you have a cold, it’s possible to have some of the same symptoms as the flu, but they don’t feel as drastic. Symptoms could include:

  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • A low-grade fever
  • A general feeling of malaise
  • Slight body aches
  • Mild headache

In most cases, when you have a cold, you don’t feel great, but you can get through the day. You may need to take cough or cold medicine, and maybe some DayQuil.

There’s no cure for the common cold, so all you can really do is rest and let your body recover. Fluids and decongestants are good for this. Chicken noodle soup and tea are also good things to keep on hand as well.

Should you call your doctor if you have a cold?

In most cases, there’s no reason to call your doctor if you have a cold. The common cold, on average, lasts anywhere between three to ten days at the most.

Your symptoms will last about three days, and then you’ll probably feel congested for about a week after. There are some circumstances where you should call your doctor if you have a cold.

The first is if you have a fever that’s greater than 101.3 F. With a fever this high, it’s possible that you don’t have a cold but a bacterial infection instead. If it is a bacterial infection, your doctor may treat you with antibiotics.

The second instance is if you have a fever that lasts for five days or more that returns when you were fever-free previously.

Other circumstances that warrant calling your doctor are if you’re experiencing shortness of breath, wheezing, severe sore throat, headache, or sinus pain. These could be signs of pneumonia, which is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both of the lungs.

What happens if my common cold turns into sinusitis?

Woman suffering from a cold

Although more uncommon, it is possible for your ordinary cold to turn into sinusitis. Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, occurs when the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed.

If this happens, it obstructs the normal flow of mucus and air that moves in and out of the tiny holes that connect them to the nasal cavity.

When inflamed, tiny hairs called cilia cannot move mucus or other debris out of the sinuses into the nasal cavity as quickly as normal. With a sinus infection, mucus stays in the sinus and then becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

This causes uncomfortable symptoms like nasal discharge, pain in the face and sinus area, cough, and headache.

If you are someone who suffers from allergies, especially untreated ones, you are more likely to end up with a sinus infection. Having allergies means you may already have inflammation in the tissue that lines the nose, which can block sinus openings.

Like having a cold or the flu, you don’t usually have to go to the doctor if you have a sinus infection. See your doctor if you’ve had nasal congestion with green or yellow discharge for five to seven days and you’re also feeling pressure and pain in your face.

What if I have chronic sinus infections?

If you have sinus infections four or five times a year, you should see one of the specialists at Chicago ENT. Having repeat sinus infections is often because of severe, untreated allergies.

Treating the underlying condition, like an allergy, can usually make a big difference in resolving the problem! Most doctors recommend treating chronic sinus infections with a course of antibiotics that lasts three to six weeks.

This is only a starting point! At Chicago ENT, we offer the newest, most minimally invasive treatment options like Balloon Sinuplasty and SINUVA.

Some patients benefit from medical therapy like antibiotics and nasal sprays, while others may need to explore minimally invasive surgical options. If you do suffer from chronic sinusitis, our ENTs will work with you to come up with a treatment plan.

What if it’s not a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection?

Woman suffering from a sinus infection

Yesterday, you felt fine. Today, you woke up and you feel like something the cat dragged in. It could be a cold, it could be the flu…how are you to know?

What you’re sick with doesn’t usually matter all that much. What matters is taking care of yourself when you feel sick. So, what should you do?

  • Drink lots of fluids and stay hydrated. Avoid things with lots of sugar, caffeine, or alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
  • Take over the counter cold and flu medicines that treat various symptoms like cough, congestion, aches, and pains.
  • Rest as much as possible. Stay away from other people to avoid passing on whatever you have to them.

Once you’re feeling better, you can go back to work and other activities. Even if you don’t mind going to work sick, you shouldn’t go and then get everyone around you sick. You also don’t know if they are at high risk or if they have someone at home with an underlying medical condition.

What can I do to prevent getting sick?

Cleaning the kitchen

There’s no way to guarantee you won’t get sick, but there are always things you can do to lessen your risks.

  • Get your flu shot. Getting the flu shot can protect you from getting the flu or it can make your symptoms less severe if you do get the flu.
  • Exercise regularly. Sweating it out on a regular basis has been proven to help protect you from getting sick. Regular exercise supports a healthy immune system, which is a key component to not getting sick.
  • Wash your hands. Even if you’re not sick, always wash your hands. You don’t know if the person who used the bathroom before you is sick and didn’t wash their hands. It’s also a good way to keep germs from spreading.
  • Clean and disinfect common surfaces. This means common areas at home and at work like the refrigerator, door handles, stovetops, countertops, desks, and phones.

Being proactive about prevention can make a big difference when it comes to avoiding the flu, the common cold, or viruses!

Concerned about chronic sinus infections or your allergies? Schedule a consultation at Chicago ENT in Chicago, IL today!


Chicago ENT has six convenient locations throughout the greater Chicago area. For the exact location and/or directions, simply click on the map next to your desired location. To book an appointment, call 773-296-5500 to speak to a scheduler or conveniently online 24/7.

Advanced Center for Specialty Care
3000 N. Halsted Street, Suite #400
Chicago, IL  60657

Phone: 773-296-5500

Office hours:
Monday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Allergy Shot Clinic hours:
Monday 8:30 am -4 pm
Tuesday 8:30 am - 1:30 pm
Wednesday 12:00 pm - 3:30 pm
Thursday 9:30 am – 12:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am - 1:00 pm
Saturday 9 am- 11:30 am
*Shot appointments are by appointment only
*All patient’s are required to wait 30 minutes after receiving allergy shot(s)

Map of the Chicago ENT Lincoln Park Location

St. Mary’s Hospital Professional Building
2222 W. Division Street,
Suite #330
Chicago, IL  60622

Phone: 773-296-5500
Map of the Chicago ENT Bucktown Location

8930 Gross Point Road,
Suite #700
Skokie, IL 60077

Phone: 773-262-4110
Map of the Chicago ENT Skokie Location

2740 W. Foster,
Suite #405
Chicago, IL 60625

Phone: 773-296-5500
Map of the Chicago ENT Chicago North Location

2522 W. Peterson Avenue
Chicago, IL 60659

Phone: 773-262-4110
Map of the Chicago ENT Peterson Location

St. Joseph Ascension Health Outpatient Pavilion
2845 N. Sheridan Rd,
Suite #807
Chicago, IL 60657

Phone: 773-296-5500
Map of the Chicago ENT Lakeview Location