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Visits by adults to family physicians for the common cold


Background — It is commonly believed that doctor's office visits for upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) occur too often given the self-limited nature of such illnesses. However, the frequency of visits for URTIs has not been well studied.

Methods — This study examined how often a large population of adults visited doctors when they had a cold, the degree to which they engaged in self care, and the characteristics of those seeking care. A secondary analysis was also performed of a population-based survey of 42,333 adults in Ontario, Canada. Adults reporting an URTI in the previous 2 weeks were included. Multiple logistic regression was used to compare adults who made an office visit with those that did not, for differences in sociodemographic characteristics, health status, sick days, over-the-counter (OTC) medication use, and life satisfaction.

Results — Only 14% of the adults studied visited a doctor for an URTI. Most (76%) engaged in self care with OTC medications. Adults who visited a family physician were less likely to have taken an OTC medication (odds ratio [OR] = 0.11), and were more likely to have experienced three or more sick days (OR = 2.70), live in a larger household (OR = 1.88), not have completed high school, and be unhappy (OR = 2.47).

Conclusions — The majority of adults do not visit a doctor when they have a cold, and most engage in self care. Illness severity, and its impact on patients and their families, seems to influence the decision to seek care.



McIsaac WJ, Levine N, Goel V. J Fam Pract. 1998; 47(5):366-9.

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