Respiratory Tract Infections: When To See A Doctor

In most cases, you do not need to see your doctor when you have a respiratory tract infection, such as the common cold, influenza (commonly referred to as "flu") or COVID-19.

You should see a physician if:

  • You have a fever of 38.5°C for more than 48 hours
  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath   ***seek emergency care/call 911 if severe***
  • You have had coughing spells or coloured sputum
  • If you have a persistent sore throat or swollen glands and neck

These are guidelines only. If for any other reason you feel that further attention is necessary, contact our office during regular business hours, and at any time you may contact Telehealth Ontario at 811 (TTY line: 1-866-797-0007) or 

SymptomsCOLD (symptoms develop slowly)INFLUENZA/COVID-19 (symptoms appear suddenly)
Fever Rare High Fever (39-40°C)
Headache Rare Usual, Can be Severe
General Aches & Pain Rare Usual, Can be Severe
Fatigue & Weakness Sometimes, Mild Usual, Severe
Runny, Stuffy Nose Common Common
Sore Throat Common Common
Coughing Sometimes Mild - Moderate Usual, Can be Severe
Complications Can lead to Sinus Congestion ("congestion" does not equal "infection") Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, can be life threatening
Prevention Frequent hand washing Vaccination and frequent hand washing, masks

There is no cure for viral respiratory infections.  ANTIBIOTICS DO NOT CURE VIRAL INFECTIONS. All you can do to feel better is treat the symptoms while your body fights off the virus. For influenza and COVID-19, your doctor will probably recommend that you treat the symptoms until you feel better, but you may be eligible for specific antiviral treatments if you are considered at higher risk of developing severe infection.

To reduce the symptoms, we would suggest that you follow these guidelines:

  1. Get plenty of rest, especially with a fever. Rest helps your body fight infection.
  2. Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke, which can make symptoms worse.
  3. Drink lots of fluids such as water and clear soups. Fluids help loosen mucus. Fluids are also important because they prevent dehydration.
  4. Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to relieve a sore throat. Throat sprays or lozenges may also help relieve the pain.
  5. Avoid alcohol.
  6. Use saline (saltwater) nose drops or spray to help loosen the mucus and moisten the skin in your nose.

If You Are Sick

  • Stay home from school/work and avoid being around people.
  • Stay home at least 24 hours after your fever breaks (without the use of Tylenol or Ibuprofen).

Over-the-counter medicines cannot cure a cold or the flu. Medicine can help relieve cold or flu symptoms.