Which Cold and Flu Symptoms Require a Doctor Visit?
Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Mar. 02, 2005
By Brenda Reilly, M.D.
RECENTLY, a mother brought her 3-year-old son into the emergency room with a cough and a fever of 101 degrees. She waited in a crowded, noisy waiting room for more than six hours, only to be told her son had a cold. He was sent home without prescriptions. The best (and only) treatment was fever control with Tylenol or Motrin; decongestants; rest; and fluids.
This and similar scenes play out often in emergency rooms, which are flooded with unnecessary visits, especially during the cold and flu season.
Parents can avoid long and unneeded waits by knowing which cold and flu symptoms do and don't require a visit to the doctor.
Children with cold symptoms (cough, mucous congestion, intermittent fever and body ache) usually don't need to see a doctor. Viruses, not bacteria or cold air, cause colds, and antibiotics won't help. Use acetaminophen (children's Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (children's Motrin) to bring down a fever. Over-the-counter cold preparations may help the child feel better temporarily, but cool, moist air to breathe may give greater relief. Sometimes, just opening the window helps.
Diarrhea or vomiting usually doesn't need treatment by a doctor, unless there is also severe abdominal pain. Getting and retaining fluids is key - use Pedialyte or similar preparations for infants, and clear soup, Gatorade or similar drinks for children and adults. See below for worrisome signs.
Most earaches resolve on their own within a few days. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, and be sure the child gets plenty of rest. If the earache lasts more than three days or is accompanied by a high fever, antibiotics may be needed.
However, worrisome signs and symptoms include the following:
Other situations and injuries that require a trip to the ER include suspected broken bones; drug and vitamin overdoses; head injuries; burns; and severe abdominal pain.
If you do take your child to the ER, remember to bring any medications your child may be taking. You may save yourself an unnecessary wait by calling your family doctor or the advice nurse first.
These basic guidelines can help you determine if a visit to the emergency room is needed. If in doubt, though, it may be best to go to the ER.
Brenda Reilly is an emergency physician at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.