Health Check

Signs to look out for when a cold is getting more serious

If you or a family member has a cold that you just can’t shake, here’s what you need to know.

Written by Editor Medibank
Mum taking care of her sick child who is laying on the couch

It’s sniffle season across the country, and there tends to be a spike in coughs and colds, especially among children. Between daycare drop offs and kids’ birthday parties, it may feel impossible to keep your family cold-free this winter.

COVID-19 safety measures also helped reduce the spread of the influenza virus, which in turn resulted in lower levels of ‘herd immunity’ due to less flu vaccines coverage compared to previous years.

If you or a family member has a cold that you just can’t shake and you’re worried it may be something more serious, here’s what you need to know:

Colds are very common

There’s a reason it’s called the ‘common’ cold. It’s normal for children to have 5 – 10 colds a year, while adults may have 2 – 4 colds each year. Now, with the added risk of COVID-19, we need to be even more mindful as these symptoms may show as similar to some common illnesses, such as colds and flu, or even allergies. If you have cold symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 (you can find out where to get tested in your area here). You can also purchase RATs from some supermarkets and retail outlets for private use.

Antibiotics don’t help with colds

Antibiotics target bacteria rather than viruses like the common cold or the flu. Instead, a typically healthy adult or child’s immune system will be able to fight the cold virus without treatment, and mild symptoms including a cough, runny nose, and sore throat will normally clear up within 5 – 7 days.

Children can get sick much more quickly than adults

Children have a lower resistance to viruses than adults, and their immunity will gradually build up as they get older resulting in fewer colds. If your little one doesn’t show some signs of improvement from their cold over 2 days, or their symptoms get worse, it’s best to make an appointment to see your GP.

When to seek help for your little one

Sometimes it’s difficult to know if your child is experiencing a common cough or cold or if there is something more serious going on. If your little one has one or more of the following symptoms, you should see your GP:

  • Won’t drink fluids
  • Vomits frequently
  • Complains of an intense headache
  • Is pale and sleepy
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Is younger than three months old and has a fever
  • Has a high fever that doesn’t get better with paracetamol
  • Has a fever and a rash that does not turn white (blanch) when pressed
  • Has a cough that lasts more than three weeks
  • Shows no sign of improvement after 48 hours
  • Suffers from a chronic disease like asthma
  • Has any other signs that make you feel worried.

When to seek help for you or an older family member

If you or an older family member are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, you should also make an appointment to see your GP:

  • A runny nose, sneezing, coughing or a sore throat that doesn’t clear up after a week
  • Fast or difficult breathing
  • High fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Body aches (especially in the lower back and legs)
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Coughing with brown or green-coloured phlegm
  • Blue colouration of the skin around the mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling extremely weak and tired.

When it’s time to act

Go straight to your local GP clinic or the nearest hospital emergency department if you (or your child) have trouble breathing, a high fever (38 degrees or more), or if the symptoms of your cold get worse over time.

Chest infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia can affect people of all ages, however young children, people aged over 65, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk. A chest infection can be very serious, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for to catch it early.

Unless otherwise advised by a doctor, home is the best place to be while your family recovers from a cold. By staying home, you or your little one can have a proper rest and reduce the chance of spreading the virus to playmates, friends and family.

Senior couple

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Written by Editor Medibank

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