How is a cold diagnosed?
If you are generally healthy, you probably won't need to see a doctor to diagnose a cold. A healthy immune system will fight the infection and symptoms will usually clear up in 7-10 days without any treatment.
See your doctor if you, or your child, has cold or flu-like symptoms and 1 or more of the following:
- asthma, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, heart disease or another long-term (chronic) medical condition
- a fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) and are feeling unwell (e.g. a painful headache or stomach pain)
- shortness of breath, noisy or fast breathing
- neck stiffness
- sensitivity to light
- chest pain
- persistent cough
- aching muscles
- marked tiredness and a lack of energy, or not drinking fluids
See Fever in children and Spotting signs of serious illness in babies and children for more information.
How is the flu diagnosed?
If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms. You should see your doctor if you or your child have flu-like symptoms and any of the following:
- are younger than 5 years old
- are aged 65 years or older and living in a aged care home
- have heart or kidney disease, or a medical condition like type 2 diabetes
- are pregnant
- are very obese (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 35 or higher)
- are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
- have severe asthma, breathing problems or a lung disease (e.g. cystic fibrosis)
- have a disease affecting your muscles and/or the nerves that control them, and which can affect your ability to breathe (e.g. muscular dystrophy)
- have a weakened immune system (e.g. people with HIV, people taking medicines to suppress their immune system)
- are homeless
- are a smoker
This is because flu can be serious for you and your doctor may want to prescribe antiviral medication.
Your doctor may diagnose a probable influenza infection based on your symptoms alone. They will listen to your chest using a stethoscope.
If your doctor wants to be sure of the diagnosis they may take a sample of cells and mucus from your nose or throat using a sterile cotton swab. This sample will be sent to a pathology laboratory for testing.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your cold or flu, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2018