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Colds, Flu, Allergies

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Emergency Room Care for Colds and Coughs

In most cases, a cold and cough do not require emergency room care. However, there are certain situations where seeking emergency medical attention may be necessary:

  • Difficulty Breathing: If you experience severe shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest tightness, it could be a sign of a more serious respiratory condition such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Seek emergency care immediately.
  • High Fever: A high fever (typically over 102°F or 38.9°C) that does not respond to over-the-counter fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may indicate a more serious infection requiring medical attention.
  • Persistent Vomiting or Dehydration: If you are unable to keep fluids down due to vomiting, or if you are experiencing signs of dehydration such as dizziness, rapid heartbeat, or dark urine, seek medical attention promptly.
  • Severe Headache or Confusion: Severe headaches, confusion, or difficulty staying awake could be symptoms of a more serious condition such as meningitis. If you experience these symptoms along with a cold and cough, seek emergency care.
  • Worsening Symptoms: If your cold and cough symptoms worsen despite home remedies and over-the-counter medications, or if you develop new symptoms such as severe ear pain, sinus pain, or coughing up blood, it's important to seek medical evaluation.
  • Underlying Health Conditions: If you have underlying health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, or a weakened immune system, a cold and cough may exacerbate these conditions, requiring medical attention.

If you're uncertain whether your symptoms warrant a trip to the emergency room, it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek medical advice. Mercy Emergency Room in Sugar Land, Texas provides immediate care for a wide range of illnesses including complicated colds and coughs. We are open 24/7 and have experienced, board-certified physicians trained to manage critical medical situations in adults and children.

What are Colds and Coughs?

Colds and coughs are contagious diseases. A cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that primarily affects your nose and throat. It often presents as excessive watery secretions (mucus) from your nose. Adults may have 2 to 3 colds each year, whereas infants and young children may have colds more often. A cough is a common reflex action to clear your throat of foreign irritants or mucus. But too much or persistent coughing may mean you have a disease or disorder. Although there are several possible causes of a cough, most coughs are generally a result of viral infections. Colds and coughs normally clear on their own, but sometimes a patient may experience frequent or recurrent episodes that can be distressing. This could be due to several reasons and usually requires a thorough evaluation by your physician.

Causes of Colds and Coughs

Most coughs and colds are caused by various types of viruses. Around 50 percent of coughs and colds are caused by rhinoviruses. When a virus manages to overpower the immune system, infection occurs. The first line of defense is mucus, which is produced in the nose and throat by the mucus glands. This mucus traps anything inhaled, such as viruses, bacteria, and dust. Colds and coughs are commonly passed on by way of coughing or sneezing. Children typically can get about 8 to 10 colds or coughs in a year. A cough can persist for 2 to 4 weeks after a cold resolves. Recurrent or persistent colds and coughs may be associated with various factors such as:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Postnasal drip
  • Chronic sinusitis due to structural problems causing poor drainage of the sinuses
  • Smoke, dust, or other irritants in the environment
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Serious conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, or cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Cold and Cough

The most common symptoms you may experience with cold and cough include:

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Nose and throat irritation/itching
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mucus or sputum production

Diagnosis of Cold and Cough

In most cases, your physician can diagnose your cold and cough by asking a few questions about your symptoms and reviewing your medical history. This will be followed by a physical examination where vital signs such as body temperature are measured. Your physician will also use a stethoscope on your chest, back, and abdomen to check for any abnormal sounds or congestion in the lungs. A thorough medical history and physical exam will provide important clues regarding the recurrent cough and cold. 
If necessary, your doctor may order any of the below tests: 

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Throat swab
  • Phlegm sample
  • Blood sample (for infection)
  • Spirometry to check lung function

Treatment of Colds and Coughs

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Most cases of colds and coughs get better without treatment in a week or two. In general, the best treatment for most colds and coughs is ample rest at home along with adequate fluid intake, preferably water, so your immune system can fight off the virus naturally. However, if symptoms do not get better or continue to persist, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to ease your symptoms along with other treatment measures. These include:

  • NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat inflamed tissues in the upper respiratory tract
  • Antihistamine drugs to treat allergy symptoms such as runny nose, itchy throat, and watery eyes
  • Analgesic and antipyretic drugs such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever, sore throat, or headache 
  • Saline nasal drops/sprays, decongestants, and cough syrups to thin mucus and make it easier to blow out or spit out
  • Humidifiers and steam treatment
  • Application of vapor rubs
  • Zinc supplements to reduce the length and severity of cold
  • Cough drops (menthol or other medicated lozenges)
  • Vitamin C and D to lessen the duration and degree of overall symptoms


Influenza, also referred to as flu, is a serious respiratory infection caused by viruses. It is easily spread from person to person. You are at a higher risk of developing influenza complications if you are:

  • An adult over 65 years of age
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Pregnant 
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Suffering from chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart, liver, and kidney disease, and diabetes
  • Very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

Causes of Influenza

Influenza is caused by influenza viruses, which are usually passed through the air via coughing, talking, and sneezing. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick it up from any object such as a keyboard or telephone and then transfer them to your own eyes, nose, or mouth.

Symptoms of Influenza

Initially, influenza may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing, and sore throat. Symptoms appear suddenly and may include:

  • Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Fatigue or tiredness 
  • Sore throat

Diagnosis of Influenza

Your doctor will first review your medical history and ask about your symptoms. There are several tests for influenza which include using a swab to swipe the back of your throat or the inside of your nose which is sent to a lab to be tested for the virus. Some tests give results within 15 to 20 minutes, but they do not always provide accurate results. Others takes around one hours to several hours.

Treatment of Influenza

Treatment depends on the severity. Adequate rest and fluid (preferably water) consumption may help to fight off viruses in mild cases. For high-risk groups, you should contact your health care provider as you might require antiviral medicines to treat your influenza. Antiviral medicines can also treat serious flu complications. For better results, you need to start taking them within 2 days of falling sick.

Side effects of antiviral medication may include nausea and vomiting. You can reduce the side effects if the drug is taken with food.

Allergy Care

What is Allergy Care?

Allergy care refers to treatment involved in the management of allergies. An allergy is a reaction by your immune system to substances that do not cause a reaction in most other people. These substances are known as allergens. The most common allergens are pollen, dust mites, animal dander, mold spores, food, insect stings, and medicines. Allergies can cause various symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, teary eyes, swelling, itching, rashes, coughing, wheezing, or breathlessness. Allergies can range from minor to severe. Anaphylaxis is a serious reaction that can be life-threatening.

Emergency Room Care for Allergies

Emergency room care for allergies may be necessary in severe cases or when symptoms rapidly escalate. Mercy Emergency Room in Sugar Land, Texas provides immediate medical attention for allergy-related emergency situations such as:

  • Anaphylaxis: This is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling of the face or throat, rapid pulse, drop in blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention, and epinephrine (EpiPen) should be administered if available.
  • Severe Respiratory Symptoms: Allergic reactions can cause severe respiratory distress, such as acute asthma exacerbation or difficulty breathing due to swelling of the airways. If you experience severe shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest tightness, seek emergency care promptly.
  • Swelling and Hives: If you develop widespread swelling of the skin (angioedema) or hives (urticaria) that are accompanied by difficulty breathing, dizziness, or throat tightness, it could indicate a serious allergic reaction requiring immediate medical attention.
  • Multiple System Involvement: Allergic reactions that affect multiple body systems simultaneously, such as respiratory, skin, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular symptoms, may indicate a severe reaction that necessitates emergency care.
  • History of Severe Allergic Reactions: If you have a history of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to certain allergens, it's important to be vigilant and seek prompt medical attention if exposed to those allergens again.

If you or someone else is experiencing a severe allergic reaction, call emergency services (911) immediately. If you carry an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen), administer it promptly according to the instructions. After administering epinephrine, seek emergency medical care even if symptoms improve, as a second reaction (biphasic reaction) can occur.

If you have milder allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, or itchy eyes, you can usually manage them with over-the-counter antihistamines or other allergy medications. However, if your symptoms are not relieved by over-the-counter medications or if you experience persistent or worsening symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and management.

Some of the treatments and preventive measures involved with allergy care include:


  • Antihistamines: These medications are helpful in treating sinus issues brought on by allergies. They work by blocking the action of certain chemical compounds (histamines) which cause allergy symptoms. They can calm runny nose, itching, sneezing, and hives. They are available in the form of nose sprays, liquids, pills, and melting tablets. These treat indoor and seasonal allergies.
  • Nasal corticosteroids: Nasal corticosteroids are nose sprays. They reduce swelling in the nasal lining. Swelling causes an itchy, stuffy, and runny nose. They are the most effective medication for nasal allergies.
  • Mast cell stabilizers: Mast cell stabilizers are anti-inflammatory drugs used to alleviate asthma and several allergic conditions. They keep your body from releasing histamine. This can help with an itchy, runny nose or itchy, watery eyes. They come in the form of nose sprays or eye drops.
  • Corticosteroid ointments or creams: These are topical medications that help to relieve itchiness and prevent the spread of rashes. One should see their physician if their rashes do not go away after applying these medications for a week.
  • Decongestants: These medications are helpful in alleviating stuffy nose symptoms and act by shrinking the swollen membranes in the nose. But one should be careful as using decongestant sprays more than 3 days in a row may cause the stuffiness and swelling in your nose to become worse. This can occur even after you discontinue using the medication.
  • Oral corticosteroids: These are oral medications that may be prescribed to decrease swelling and put an end to acute allergic reactions. These medications can cause severe side effects. Expect your physician to carefully observe you while taking it.
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots): If your allergies are causing persistent problems, immunotherapy might be your best option. Allergy shots help reduce the body's reaction to specific allergens. They are considered the best long-term treatment method for seasonal, insect bites, and indoor allergies.
  • Epinephrine: This medication comes in a pre-measured and self-injectable device. It is the most important medication given during life-threatening anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). For this medicine to work, you should get an epinephrine shot within minutes of the first sign of a serious allergic reaction. Epinephrine can treat life-threatening allergic reactions to stinging insects, food, medications, and latex.

Preventive Measures

The least invasive and safest method for preventing allergies is to avoid specific allergens that might trigger your immune responses. This includes:

  • Encasing your mattress and pillows in dust mite-proof cases
  • Removing carpets from your home and replacing them with easy-to-clean material such as hardwood or linoleum
  • Using only washable window coverings, such as cotton or synthetic curtains
  • Keeping your doors and windows closed during the pollen season and using an air conditioning system
  • Avoiding outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are high
  • Keeping potted plants out of the house
  • Avoiding the use of a wood-burning fireplace or stove, as the smoke may cause respiratory allergies
  • Washing the sink regularly and not letting dishes pile up, to avoid your sink turning into a breeding ground for mold
  • Washing or replacing shower curtains and bathmats on a regular basis.
  • Avoiding smoking inside your home
  • Making sure to bathe pets once a week and keep them out of your bedroom and off the furniture
  • Avoiding weed pulling, lawn mowing, and other gardening chores that stir up allergens
  • Cleaning floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • Keeping indoor air dry with a dehumidifier (a device that removes excess moisture from the air)
  • Taking prescribed allergy medications before your symptoms start or flare up if high pollen counts are forecasted