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Cold

Read about some of the further problems that can develop if you have a cold.

Colds usually clear up without causing any further problems. However, the infection can sometimes spread to your chest, ears or sinuses.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an infection of the small air-filled cavities inside the cheekbones and forehead. It develops in up to 1 in every 50 adults and older children who have a cold.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • pain and tenderness around your nose, eyes and forehead (sinus headache)
  • a blocked and runny nose
  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above

In most cases, the symptoms of sinusitis will resolve without the need for treatment. See your GP if your symptoms don't improve after a week or they're getting worse.

Middle ear infection (otitis media)

A middle ear infection (otitis media) develops in an estimated one in every five children under the age of five with a cold.

Symptoms of a middle ear infection include:

  • severe earache
  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • flu-like symptoms, such as vomiting and a lack of energy
  • some loss of hearing

Most middle ear infections will resolve without treatment within a few days. Treatment is usually only required if your child has repeated middle ear infections.

Chest infection

A chest infection such as bronchitis and pneumonia can occur after a cold, as your immune system is temporarily weakened.

Symptoms of a chest infection include a persistent cough, bringing up phlegm (mucus), and shortness of breath.

Minor chest infections will resolve in a few weeks without specific treatment, but you should see your GP if:

  • your cough is severe
  • you have a persistent high temperature
  • you become confused or disorientated
  • you have a sharp pain in your chest
  • you cough up bloodstained phlegm 
  • your symptoms last longer than three weeks

In these cases, you could have a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

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