But if you're miserable and coughing, you want to be sure to get the best care without greater risk for infection or spreading your illness, so before rushing off to an urgent care or emergency room, check with your primary care physician. Calling your doctor first can help you determine the severity and how to get care for your illness. Plus, it can save you unnecessary trips outside of your home or contact with crowded waiting rooms. After all, staying home as much as you are able is the best way to rest and help keep others from getting sick.
Here are more tips to help you weather this winter's germs.
Understanding different respiratory tract infections
What most people call colds or the flu, doctors recognize as different types of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) usually caused by viruses and sometimes by bacteria.
These are further grouped into upper or lower respiratory tract infections, with upper RTIs including the common cold, tonsillitis, sinusitis, laryngitis and flu.
Lower RTIs include flu in the lower respiratory tract, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
The main way that people pass along these diseases is through the air, when someone coughs or sneezes, but you can also get them by touching something an infected person handled and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes.
Stay home and rest when possible
In the winter, waiting rooms at hospitals and clinics get crowded, and, ironically, if you're stuck in a waiting room, chances are you could pick up even more germs, according to a study from the University of Bradford.
Matthew Birkle MD, Medical Director for TriHealth Priority Care, has seen disease spread all too often and counsels his patients to stay at home, rest and use over-the-counter medications for cold and congestion relief.
"Don't touch or share anything around those who could be ill," Birkle said. "If you think you have the flu, then call your family physician and stay at home so you don't spread it to your school or workplace."
However, if you're over 65 and have been hospitalized recently, have diabetes or have other chronic health issues, always see your doctor when you get a respiratory tract infection of any kind; don't risk waiting it out at home.