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The question

I have a cold that just won't go away. It's been over a month. Can a doctor do anything for me?

The answer

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Most colds are self-limited and last about 7-14 days, so for a cold that has persisted for over a month, I would recommend seeing your doctor to review your medical history and do a physical examination. Depending on your symptoms and personal history, he or she may be able to suggest some options for relief and ensure that nothing serious is happening.

With the persistence of your cold, it is possible that you have developed a secondary infection after the first has cleared. Secondary infections such as sinusitis, ear infections or pneumonia can arise when the immune system has been busy fighting the first infection.

While this can happen to anyone, people with weakened immune systems such as those with uncontrolled diabetes, hospitalized or nursing home patients or those taking immunosuppressant medications are at higher risk. Symptoms of sinusitis, ear infections and pneumonia to watch for beyond the usual runny nose and congestion of a cold include: facial pain, fever, ear pain and shortness of breath.

Smoking can also decrease immunity, so during a cold (or permanently if possible), reduce or quit smoking to allow your body's immune system to be fully functioning. Excessive stress can also weaken your system, so ensure that you are taking care of yourself during a cold with plenty of rest, healthy diet and proper hydration.

On occasion, a cold can worsen pre-existing conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disase (COPD or emphysema), or congestive heart failure. If you suffer from any of these conditions and your cold is prolonged beyond a week or two, seek care quickly to take care of yourself to prevent a prolonged and potentially more serious infection.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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