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How to know when your cold is something more serious

That pesky cold may actually be masquerading as bronchitis, the flu, or even laryngitis.

If you’ve been tuning into Good Morning Britain this week, you might have noticed that Piers Morgan has been feeling pretty under the weather.

Proving that celebrities don’t get a fast-track past winter ailments, the presenter has revealed that what he originally thought was “man flu” has developed into something much more worrying.

Morgan, 53, tweeted a “health update” to his 6 million Twitter followers, after admitting he was feeling ill on the breakfast programme.

“HEALTH UPDATE: Man-flu now upgraded to bronchitis, sinusitis and a dash of laryngitis. The trifecta of hell for TV presenting,” he wrote, alongside a picture of the medication he was prescribed by a doctor.

“Doc’s given me this lot to ‘nuke it all away.’ I’ll be at my ⁦GMB⁩ work station tomorrow if it kills me, which at this rate it might just do.”

We all know that having a cough, cold or sore throat can make you feel awful, especially if you have to face a long day at work while you’re suffering. But how do you know when it’s not just a passing sniffle?

“Colds are caused by a group of over 200 viruses, that infect the nose, throat and sinuses,” says Dr Paul Stillman, GP and founder of media-medics. “Symptoms appear about two days after infection, most commonly with a runny nose and sneezing, sore throat, fever and headache.

“The illness usually lasts around a week, often alongside a cough developing, but in some cases can last up to three weeks, gradually improving so that most people are up and about after seven to 10 days.”

If your cold lasts much longer than two weeks or keeps coming back, bronchitis, laryngitis, sinusitis, or some other secondary infection may be the culprit.

Prolonged symptoms can be a major indicator that a virus has penetrated the system, or it could be a bacterial infection which may need antibiotics to clear. Knowing the difference is important to ensure you get the most appropriate treatment, if it isn’t ‘just a cold’.

Dr Stillman explains that flu is the most likely explanation. It’s caused by a virus too, but there are only three or four types. The virus can mutate, resulting in a new strain spreading across the world every year – that’s why a vaccine can be prepared in advance, and offer some, or even complete, protection.

“Influenza often starts far more suddenly than a cold. Within a few hours of noticing symptoms, the headache, muscle pains and fatigue can be severe, accompanied by the respiratory symptoms of a cold, including irritated eyes and earache,” says Stillman.

If you’re suffering from a hacking cough that won’t go away, meanwhile, it might be down to bronchitis – an infection of the main airways of the lungs. Laryngitis is another possible cause, where a person suffers inflammation of the larynx, typically resulting in a painful cough, huskiness or loss of voice and harsh breathing.

“Shortness of breath, chest pain, a very high fever, particularly with a rash, continuing vomiting, or any symptoms that seem more severe than expected, need professional help,” says Dr Stillman.

You should also visit your doctor if your cold symptoms last for more than two weeks. “An illness that improves but then becomes worse again, or one involving the very young, old, or those with another chronic condition, are amongst those that often need to seek professional advice more quickly,” he adds.

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