What is the actual duration of cold and flu symptoms, and when should you seek assistance?

In the midst of a widespread battle against various illnesses, medical experts offer guidance on when to seek professional medical advice.

New York City stands among the few regions experiencing a surge in respiratory illnesses this month, with high or very high concentrations of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or influenza, leading to what experts term as “the tripledemic,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Typically, symptoms of a common cold tend to peak within the initial days of illness. Although certain symptoms like a runny nose or persistent cough can last up to 14 days, as outlined by the CDC.

On the other hand, symptoms of influenza, RSV, COVID-19, and other viruses generally persist for about seven days but may extend up to two weeks.

For individuals with pre-existing conditions like asthma, symptoms may persist for an extended duration. Dr. Lena Wen advised on CNN that those experiencing symptoms for more than two weeks without improvement should consult a medical professional.

Particular attention should be given to individuals facing shortness of breath, chest pain, and an inability to retain fluids. In such cases, seeking prompt medical attention is crucial.

People at the extremes of age, newborns, and the elderly, along with those with underlying health conditions, face a higher risk of developing severe symptoms and should seek medical care earlier than the average person. Hospitalization rates are notably higher among young children and senior citizens.

Dr. Wen emphasized the risk of a viral infection progressing to a bacterial infection if left untreated. She also pointed out that persistent symptoms could indicate another underlying condition, warranting medical evaluation.

While there are general indicators of when to consult a doctor, Dr. Wen encourages everyone to be attuned to their bodies and seek medical assistance when necessary. Basic preventive measures such as staying home when sick, handwashing, proper cough etiquette, and staying updated on vaccinations remain crucial, as highlighted by Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services in Texas.

Despite the availability of new COVID-19 booster shots and FDA-approved vaccines for RSV, complacency and “COVID fatigue” have set in, leading to a decline in vaccination rates and public awareness efforts, even as the threat of illnesses persists.