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Infectious Diseases

Why do I keep getting colds?

09/17/2001

Question:

Hello, I have a question... I have been getting frequent colds. From the first of the year I have had about nine colds and they all last about one week. My symptoms are sore throat, congestion and major lack of energy. I have been to two doctors and they have come to the conclusion that I have allergies. But no allergy medication helps... I have tried Allegra, Claritin and Zycam.I do not think it is allergies, but my doctors refuse to do blood tests. Do you have an idea of what I might have?

Answer:

It is quite difficult for me to come up with a diagnosis, with an online question, but I can offer suggestions and commentaries about you current problems. You report nine episodes of upper respiratory infections in nine months. The symptoms you describe are sore throat, nasal congestion and generalized malaise. While this frequency of colds is above the average, is by itself not severely abnormal and does not necessarily imply there is some other underlying process going on. Immune problems, contrary to popular belief, do rarely manifest themselves as frequent colds. Other symptoms like fever, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, pneumonias are typical of immunological defects.

Allergies on the other hand do manifest themselves as chronic or recurrent upper respiratory symptoms. You may develop an allergic condition late in life. Moving to Cincinnati, the world capital of sinusitis has resulted in the development of bothersome and recurrent upper respiratory symptoms in several persons, including myself. The fact that the antihistamines you have taken have been unsuccessful is not enough argument against a diagnosis of an allergic syndrome. Allergies can be quite difficult to treat, and some times the response to medication is partial and inconsistent. One symptom you are mentioning, severe lack of energy, is not a typical symptom in a story of allergy, but at the same time is not specific of any other condition.

This is what I would suggest you to do. Make an appointment with an allergist, an infectious diseases specialist or a general internist. Have a candid conversation about your symptoms, you lack of energy, and your apprehensions. The blood tests you are referring in your question should not be an issue. A panel of routine tests can be reassuring for you that the major systems in your body are working fine. When we perform a lab test we could be asking a rather specific question but also we can observe nonspecific signs that something is going on, which may prompt more focused investigation. Hope this helps.

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Response by:

Francisco   Gomez, MD Francisco Gomez, MD
Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati