If you are a healthy adult with nothing wrong with you, and you get a cold, do NOT call your doctor. Seriously. It’s a cold. Yes, your nose is congested, your throat is sore, you’re coughing up your left lung, and your sneeze has enough wind power to generate electricity. I know you’re miserable. Colds suck royally. And you know what? Your doctor can do absolutely nothing for you. As advanced as medicine is, there is nothing, nada, nyet, rien for your cold. You can take a myriad of dizzying choices of over the counter medications that clear up your stuffy nose and stifle that cough but bottom in line is that you just have to ride the sucker out. Furthermore, if your gunk is coming up green or yellow, that does not mean you need an antibiotic. That’s just your white blood cells, your own personal little army, fighting and dying in the valiant cause of curing you of your cold. Again: you do not need an antibiotic. A lot of people will get antibiotics anyway from their doctors because the doctor is sick and tired of hearing you whine and complain. You are doing a huge disservice to yourself and the world by helping create superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, so when you really do need an antibiotic, it’s going to be powerless to help you.
Here’s the kicker. Inevitably, after you start taking the antibiotic, you start to feel better so naturally you think to yourself: Hey, that doxycycline cured me! No, it didn’t. You would have gotten better anyway because time + rest = only cure for the common cold. I could have given you sugar pills or wrapped sausages around your neck and guess what? You would have started to feel better in 7 to 10 days anyway! Why? Because that’s how long the average cold lasts. Most colds are self-limiting. It was only a coincidence that you took the antibiotic. You know what you should do? Drink lots of fluids, especially warm ones. Gargle warm salt water. It’s gross but it helps that sore throat. Take something over the counter that is specific for your symptoms. Be wary of the multi-drug over the counter formulations that treat multiple symptoms. For example, if you have a stuffy nose but no cough, just take a decongestant like Sudafed. Be especially careful with those multi-drug cold formulations that contain acetaminophen. For example, don’t take Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) on top of Nyquil. Your liver will be very angry at you. You don’t want your liver to get angry.
Caveat: What I have written here does not apply if you are the very young, the very old, or you have other things wrong with you like asthma, COPD, or other comorbidities. If you’re pregnant, call your OB to find out what meds, if any, you can take. You’re the ones who should call. Here’s a pretty good guide for when to call your doctor with a cold if you are an otherwise healthy adult. And lord help me, if you’ve had this cold for 3 days, you’re 27 years old and otherwise completely healthy, and you call me at 4:55 pm on a Friday, I am going to still be polite and nice to you because I’m not mean to my patients, but I’ll be thinking not so nice thoughts about you. So there.