The common cold typically lasts between 7-10 days, and common cold treatments are often nothing more than rest and over-the-counter symptom management medications.

When over-the-counter treatments for the common cold aren’t working and you or a loved one is experiencing flu-like symptoms, here are some reasons when your common cold symptoms could be a sign of something worse, and when you should think about heading to the ER.

Adults with a sustained fever over 102 degrees, as well as any combination of the below flu-like symptoms, should seek immediate medical care:

  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe chest or stomach pain
  • Severe vomiting
  • Vertigo and lightheadedness

Fever and cold symptoms can turn into influenza symptoms if you aren't feeling any better as the days progress; symptoms can also quickly escalate. In addition to typical common cold symptoms (fatigue, chills, body aches, etc.), high fevers in adults are usually a good indicator of a viral cold infection or potential flu.

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Simple signs of a Cold

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore Throat
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Vomiting

Simple signs of the Flu

  • Muscle pain
  • High Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills

Getting better before getting worse

Another important sign that can help you or a loved one determine if you need to visit the ER is when treatment for severe colds may relieve symptoms initially, but flu-like symptoms return. If a fever broke and returned after a few days, chest pain starts to come back or difficulty holding down food after to returning to eating at a normal occurrence, it might be a sign that stronger influenza treatment is necessary.

If at any point you or a loved one is also experiencing any symptoms of severe dehydration, including extreme thirst, confusion, dark-colored urine and dizziness on a multi-day frequency, seek medical treatment immediately

We're here for emergencies

You know your body better than anybody else. If your fever and cold symptoms just aren't going away and you are concerned it might be the flu, the medical staff at Swedish here to help. Emergency services at Swedish Medical Center are close to home, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have some of the shortest wait times in the Denver metro area.

If you are asking yourself when to go to the doctor for a cold or the flu, and feel that after reviewing our online advice, you need immediate care, visit our convenient ER locations at our main campus Swedish ER, Swedish Belmar ER and Swedish Southwest ER. Swedish Hospital Center is extremely pleased to offer some of the lowest hospital and ER wait times in the Denver area. Whether it's for viral cold infection treatment or influenza treatment, the ER department at Swedish is home to physician teams and facilities designed to get you better and back home as quickly and comfortably as possible.

If you ever feel like you are not physically well enough to get to the ER, or if doing so would put yourself or others in danger, call 911. For all non-emergency questions about Swedish Medical Center's emergency services, please call (303) 788-6911.