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Talking to Your Doctor About Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

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You have a unique medical history. Therefore, it is essential to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and/or experience with viral upper respiratory infections (colds and influenza). By talking openly and regularly with your doctor, you can take an active role in your care.

Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to talk to your doctor:

  • Bring someone else with you. It helps to have another person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
  • Write out your questions ahead of time, so you don't forget them.
  • Write down the answers you get, and make sure you understand what you are hearing. Ask for clarification, if necessary.
  • Don't be afraid to ask your questions or ask where you can find more information about what you are discussing. You have a right to know.
  • Is there any chance this is more serious than a common cold (or a self-limited flu)?
  • Do I have any medical conditions that might worsen because of this virus?
  • What can I do to prevent complications?
  • What treatments do you recommend?
  • Do I need anything besides rest, good nutrition, humidified air, over-the counter (OTC) drugs, and maybe a warm bath?
  • Do you have a favorite remedy, like honey and vinegar or herbs like Echinacea?
  • Should I get a flu shot each year?
  • Is there anyone around me who might need special protection because of my virus?
  • Should I, or anyone I live with, take preventive doses of medication (medicine to prevent the flu)?
  • Should I call if I am not getting better in 10 days or if I’m getting worse at anytime?
  • What other symptoms should I be on the lookout for?

Revision Information

  • Beers MH, Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy . 17th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons; 1999.

  • Fauci AS, Braunwald E, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine . 14th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2000.