What you should know to tell if you have a cold, a virus, or something worse

Well, it’s cold season. It seems like anytime the seasons change people start getting the sniffles. When the heat of the summer wanes into some temperature relief of the fall, many people start getting a scratchy throat.

I bet most of us tend to downplay when we aren’t feeling well, blaming it on allergies or a simple virus or cold. Stuffy noses, coughing, and upper respiratory issues can be caused by minor irritations that will probably go away on their own. In other cases, though, they can be quite serious.

The reason is that some parts of the head that can get hit by a cold or infection share a blood supply with the brain. That means, under the right circumstances, sinusitis can lead to a dangerous brain infection.

That’s exactly what happened to a client of mine several years ago. It all started when this high school student got a cold that lingered for a few weeks. It eventually turned into sinusitis. When she started having a headache that wouldn’t go away, and then nausea and vomiting, her family quickly took her to the hospital.

Her sinusitis had spread to her brain and she had a golf ball-sized abscess (collection of pus) near one of the frontal lobes of the brain. The cure was straightforward—to a brain surgeon, that is: drill a hole in her head and drain the fluid. The plan was to have her back at school in a few weeks. Unfortunately, after the surgeon saved her life, the nurses dropped the ball by not paying attention to her sodium levels. She developed low serum sodium, called hyponatremia, and her brain herniated. This caused a lack of oxygen and almost killed her. She was left with a lifelong brain injury.

WebMD recently published some slides on how to tell whether your symptoms are more than a cold. I think they are very helpful and give an idea of some things you should look out for when deciding about when it’s time to get seen by doctor. Here’s what WebMD said:

• Pay attention to how quickly the symptoms develop. With the cold, symptoms like nasal congestion or sneezing start slowly and gradually get worse. The flu hits you suddenly.

• If you get the chills or shivering, it can be an early sign of infection, flu, or even pneumonia.

• It’s unusual to run a fever when you have a cold. Fevers are typically caused by an infection, which includes things like bronchitis or pneumonia.

• Pay attention to having generalized body aches. If they’re minor, it may be a cold, but more intense body aching can be a sign of the flu.

• Notice the character of your breathing. If you’re wheezing, that’s probably a sign of an infection. If it’s worse when you lie down, it could be a more serious infection.

• Infections are often the culprit if you have productive coughing, meaning you cough up mucus.

• It’s common for the flu to zap your energy, but a sinus infection or pneumonia can do the same thing.

• If you have a sore throat, is it mild or severe? Many people with minor colds have a sore throat, but if the pain level is more intense, it can be a sign of strep throat.

• If you have an unusual headache, along with other symptoms, you might have an infection.

• Serious respiratory infections can cause chest tightness or pain.

• Severe shortness of breath, more than congestion, can be a sign of a serious infection.

• Head pressure is a symptom of an infection.

• When the symptoms persist and don’t seem to go away, it’s a sign that you might have something more than a cold. Medical experts say that a cold can last up to 10 days.

Unfortunately, some doctors don’t do a thorough job of assessing patients who think their symptoms are serious enough that they made an appointment. Instead, they jump to a faulty conclusion that the patient just has a cold. If you’ve been seriously injured because of misdiagnosis and lack of treatment for an infection, then contact a top-rated, experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.