Cold, Flu, and Sinus Symptoms:

Do You Need an Appointment?


When colds, influenza, (‘the flu’), and sinus symptoms make their yearly rounds, one of the most common questions we hear is, “Do I need to come in for an appointment?” More often than not, you don’t. Usually your best course of action is to stay home and take care of yourself.

What do I have, anyway?

Is it a cold, influenza, sinusitis, or something else like bronchitis? Making the distinction can be tricky, even for an expert clinician. That’s because all of these illnesses have overlapping symptoms (sore throat, cough, runny nose, sinus congestion, headache, weakness, muscle aches, and fever) and you might have more than one condition simultaneously. The culprit is almost always a virus, so doctors often refer to these illnesses using the umbrella term “Viral Upper Respiratory Infection” or “Viral URI,” and a more precise diagnosis is usually unnecessary. As a general rule, colds are fairly mild but the symptoms can last several weeks, whereas influenza tends to be much more severe but rarely lasts more than a few days. Both colds and flus can cause sinus symptoms and/or the nagging cough of bronchitis.

Do I need to be seen?

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, severe coughing fits, or coughing up blood, pain in an unusual location (such as your eye, ear, or tooth), high fevers (over 103° F), trouble drinking fluids or any symptoms lasting longer than two weeks, or if you have other chronic health problems, we recommend you make an appointment so we can check you for other conditions. Otherwise, you’ll almost certainly recover quickly and completely from an upper respiratory infection without any treatment, so you don’t need to see us.

So what can I do to feel better?

1) Sleep. Your best weapon against these vexing viruses is your own immune system, which works best when you’re sleeping. Try to get 10 or more hours of restful sleep a day to help combat the virus.

2) Drink water. Without water, your immune system cannot function optimally. And when you’re sweating, breathing heavily and blowing your nose every thirty seconds, you’re at risk for becoming dehydrated. So if you’re sick, you need to drink plenty of water, just as you would if you were exercising. You know you’re drinking enough water if your urine is clear, not yellow.

3) Avoid stresses to your immune system. Avoid smoking (and secondhand smoke), drinking alcohol, exercising strenuously, or working long hours. These will only prolong your illness.

Which over-the-counter remedies should I take?

The answer depends on your symptoms. Many over-the-counter products combine various ingredients described below, enabling you to choose the one that best suits your needs.

Headache: acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin)

Fever: acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin)

Runny Nose/Post-Nasal Drip: antihistamines (e.g. Claritin, Zyrtec, Benadryl) and/or pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed)

Sinus Congestion: nasal rinses with Neti pot or similar device (e.g. Nasaline) and/or pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed)

Sore Throat: hard candies, lozenges, salt water gargles, acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin)

Cough: this can one of the most difficult symptoms to control. Eliminating post-nasal drip (see above) is an important first step. Dextromethorphan (found in most varieties of Robitussin and similar products) can also be moderately helpful. If you are having severe coughing fits despite these measures, let us know.

But wait, can’t you give me something?

Most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, so conventional antibiotics are ineffective. In rare cases, however, bacteria are responsible and antibiotics can be helpful. We have a few other tools in our shed, too, so if you’ve tried everything described above but you’re still feeling poorly, come see us. (Please note that the color of your mucus is NOT an accurate predictor of whether you have a bacterial infection.)

And of course, don’t forget to come in for your annual flu shot. It’s the single-most effective thing you can do to avoid getting influenza. Check our Influenza FAQ page for more information.

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  1. crista yamasaki says:

    i have had a head and chest cold but the symptoms warrant only rest as instructed above however i have had to miss 4 days of work and will need a doctors note in order to excuse the time. how can i get this? do i need to come into the office?

  2. nic says:

    with new FSA rules, i’ll need a prescription even to get over the counter meds like Dayquil/Nyquil. does that mean i need to come in anyway for an appt?

  3. Celimara says:

    The snot draining to your sotmach can make you nauseous. Be sure to see a DR since sinus infections can become very serious.In the mean time, take an antihistamine like Clariton. Try Mucinex, it melts the mucus and really relieves the pain well. Try adding in Sudafed, the real Sudafed, the one you can only get behind the counter (you’ll need your ID).Try taking a hot steamy shower, using a vaporizer, or leaning over some steaming water (careful!).And don’t forget the Tylenol.

  4. Mauree Jane Perry says:

    In addition to all the symptons above, I feel as though knives are running up and down my throat especially when I swallow. Suggestions ?

    • Hi Mauree,

      Sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, we can’t provide specific medical advice online. We suggest you get in touch with your primary care provider to look into this further for you. Hope you feel better!

    • Bob Unknown says:

      I felt like that too mauree and i drank anything cold or ate anything cold like a popcicle (cant spell it lol) but if u throw up dont eat it but i felt better drinking cold items and eating cold items hope this helps

  5. Sinus Infection says:

    Flu or sinus infection are viral and therefore affect other parts of body such as lungs If not treated.Therefore prescription to flu and sinus is important for faster recovery.

    • Roberto says:

      I have not really cohesn what kind of specialists I would like to work under, but I do believe that it would be fun to work in a Psychiatrist’s office. I originally was going for my B.A. in Psychology, but switched. There are so many to choose from that sound absolutely interesting. Such as working under an Internist or going simple and working under a Family practitioner. Even Gerontologist sounds like fun. I love the “aging population” and they have stories and much to teach.For the moment I am going to take this degree one step at a time and try to find the place that fits me best.

  6. Emergency Care Houston Texas says:

    It is better to prevent our body before flu and sinus attacks it by just getting flu vaccination from the nearest emergency room.

    • Hey there,

      There’s no downside to getting the flu vaccine ahead of time since you don’t know when you’re going to get the flu. If you’re already experiencing flu symptoms, you shouldn’t get the vaccine. Once you’re fully recovered, you can get the vaccine–it could still protect you from other strains of the flu this season.

      Malcolm Thaler, MD
      Clinical Editor
      One Medical Group

  7. vidhi rathore says:

    i have caught cold , its the internal cold ,and i am feeling weak since 2 days. i have sinus problem. i am staying in a hostel and so cant get good energetic food. i am drinking glucose water since 2 days, and i am taking my sinus medicines. but i dont feel any better. please suggest.

    • Hi Vidhi

      Thanks for the comment. Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well–unfortunately we cannot provide medical advice online. We suggest you talk to your primary care provider to look into further for you.

  8. Debbie Zvonar says:

    I have no energy, when I cough I am close to having a panic attack because there is so much in my chest but I can’t bough it up! My sinisus are just running down my throat which is filling up my chest more! I found some 800 mg amoxicillin to take 3 times a day I have enough for 2 days, should I go see a doctor ? My throat is burning also!

    • Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, we suggest you talk to your doctor so he/she can diagnose and suggest treatment for the symptoms you’re experiencing. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  9. Jeff says:

    I have been sick for 14 days. I have an average fever of 101.5 with body aches, night sweats, severe weakness, productive cough of thick gray mucus. How much longer am I going to have to suffer before I can expect to see some improvement? I am as sick today as I was when I first got sick.

  10. Tara says:

    I woke up yesterday with a horrible throat ache and bad headache and throughout the day got increasingly worse. Post nasal drip, nose running non stop, coughing, ears hurt, over all feel not so great.

    I woke up again this morning feeling worse with same symptoms but multiplied in severity.

    I took a Claritin pill last night which dried me up a little – but didn’t help all that much.

    Is this a cold or is it sinus?

    I have so many medications here OTC and I never know what to take.

    I have:
    Tylenol Sinus Congestion & Pain

    Should I take all these? What should I do.

    I made an appt with you at 4pm your next only available one- do I need to come in? I would like to start taking something now I feel awful!

    • Hi Tara,

      Yes we suggest you come in so we can take a closer look at the symptoms you’re experiencing.

      • Abdelwali says:

        I want you to phone around for a pain manaegment clinic that treats fibromyalgia.The clinic should offer lidocaine infusions. These are done every 3 weeks for 9 hours. It’s a bottle of lidocaine that’s implanted put in your upper arm with a small thin plastic needle and you pull it out when it runs it’s course.There are also anti depressants that treat fibromyalgia. Narcotics do not treat fibromyalgia and my suspicion is that your doctor has BEEN FINED FOR PRESCRIBING NARCOTICS to a patient without a proper diagnosis. They are not allowed to prescribe METHADONE for fibromyalgia. You will also need to find a doctor quick to help you get off your methodone. You can’t just quit cold turkey, so find a clinic who will see your case.

  11. hellon earth says:

    i have not been diagnosed by a pysician properly nor treated for almost 2 years, i have a skin condition that has caused me to lose a lot of weight, memory vision,hearing balance and quality of life. my skin peels and its yellow and sticky. i have a problem where i live and had my apartment professionally tested and they discovered asppergillius pennecillium hyphae. you can see these spores flying (air borne ) on a video but sometimes it looks like my house is smoky there is so much (pollination?) happening . i have lost 30 lbs and its not because i dieted, im not genetically prone to being lean, (the battle of the bulge at least is resolved but at the cost of my health id rather be a voluptuous than this . i have film of this in my house, hair ears ,eyes feet (well everywhere) before i come to see you id like you to

  12. kamran khan says:

    i am suffering from influenza from 7 days now the condition is better but on 5th day i got sever bleeding from the nose when i sneezed in the morning,,after that i got blood stained sputum 6th day and on 7th day also i got a big blood sputum while sneezing
    therefore i am worried ..because now in the evening also i got little blood stained sputum from my nose while sneezing
    is this normal?
    or not what medicine do i have to take?
    as i have not taken any kind of anti biotic till now
    plz help me

    • Hi Kamran,

      We suggest following up with your primary care doctor so he/she can look further into your symptoms. They’ll be able to get a closer look and decide which are the next best steps to treat what you’re experiencing.

  13. sam says:

    I have been sick for the past week and suddenly the other morning I woke up and i cant hear. It feels really bad. Pressure in both ears. It started out with a sinus infection and then went to the chest and now my ears.

  14. morag germaine says:


    I am just getting over broncitis now my ears are blocked and i can hardly hear what can i do.

  15. Balance says:

    I am around germs all the time at school and ever since I started taking echinacea, I have been able to cut the duration of my cold to 1-3 days. The key is to catch it early – start taking Airborne or echinacea (3x a day) and get plenty of rest/water as soon as you feel a sore throat. If you start to feel better the next day, still continue the echinacea for an additional day. It works! I haven’t had a cold that lasted more than a couple days for 20 years.

  16. santosh surlekar says:

    Hi…. I m exprencng light fever for last 20 days… an light cold…. and headache… my doctor told me dat its sinus….he gven me some nose drops and tab and serup… but after4 days of tkng .. my cough is gone but light fever is still dr speciallyat nite tme…. plese help me

    • Thanks for your comment Santosh. Sorry to hear you’re not well. The best thing to do is to follow up with your doctor to look further into your fever and see if he/she can may any additional recommendations.

  17. Peter says:

    So I have had all these symptoms this week. boo. However, my ears continue to leak yellowish liquid and only allow me to hear %20 of what I heard before. Any ideas on how to get rid of these final two irritants? Please?

    • Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well Peter. We suggest getting this looked at by your primary care doctor as soon as possible. Unfortunately we can’t provide online personal medical advice, so your doctor will be able to look into your ear issue in more detail.

  18. Manik says:

    I Had All These Symptoms..I Checked Up With Doctor.s & Now Taking Some Tabs & Cough Syrup.Especially At Night Im Feeling Weak, It Sweats Too Much. While Im Sleeping, What Causes Cough, Weakness & Sweat At Night?

  19. debra says:

    My husband has the flu he got sick on 11/15 today is 11/26 he is alot
    better all congestion and aches subsided and no fever, but still no energy to get up and do anything. He gets better everyday but in such small
    increments, should he see a doctor or just hold the course and hope
    he is better by the end of this week?

  20. Amadeo Plaza says:

    As I lay awake at 5amdebating of there’s anything you guys can help with —for getting me past this awful cold — reading this was actually really helpful.

  21. Libby says:

    Hi, I have been having a constant illness for about 2 weeks. There is congestion in my nose while I may occasionally have a fever and sore throat. The congestion in my nose is the most severe out of the three symptoms.

  22. Ronda says:

    My NP diagnosed me with bronchitis. I have a terrible cough that causes aches in my joints when I cough and I get really weak and light headed. I throw up but not nauseous. No fever. It’s been 4 weeks now but the antibiotic didn’t work. Expectorant breaks up the mucus but the cough won’t go away. Yesterday I notice eye pain when I roll my eyes. My NP gave me a new antibiotic but I can’t afford it. She took labs and chest xray and will give me a call if something is wrong with the results. Meanwhile, I wait, but the cough continues.

  23. ramesh says:

    I have headache, flu, eye in water and weakness
    my age is 30 years

  24. Elaine says:

    If I call or email and present flu symptoms or if I have a household member with the flu, will you provide Tamiflu prescriptions to members, to fight or prevent flu, without requiring an office visit?

  25. Yasmine says:

    I can barley hear out of one ear is that related to a cold,or something else?

  26. maria says:

    I have had some sneezing coughing and my head feels like there is presure in it. I have some presure in my chest. I was talking to someone and I felt very tierd just taking. I took some Tylenol for fever I don’t hand anymore and Ibuprofen. I don’t feel good still. I can’t sleep but I have been drinking water Gatorade chamomile tea. What is causing this and what more can I do to feel better?

  27. greg says:

    I have a fever of 103.2 couph sore throught and muscle bone weakness and stomach pains… What do you think this is? The doctor that we went to said its an unknown virus… I keep looking up those symptoms and its saying ” EV D68. ” Should I be worried? Is EV D68 dangerous?

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