Do I Need to See a Doctor if I Have a Cold?

Are you on the fence about whether to visit the doctor’s office with a bad cold? 

Most bouts with a cold can be handled at home, as many of us know. But other times you or your child’s body may send warning signs that professional medical help is needed.  

Under most circumstances, you should visit a doctor, go to urgent care or head to the emergency room if symptoms like a sore throat, congestion, headache or sinus pain haven’t improved after 10 days. If your immune system hasn’t done its job by then, it is possible you have contracted an infection that may require antibiotics.  

Telltale signs that your cold should be treated by a doctor 

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, recurring chest pain or having trouble breathing, you are dealing with elevated symptoms not typically associated with the common cold. According to the CDC, you are struggling to breathe if you are:   

  • Unable to move enough air in and out of the lungs or can do so only with an unusually great effort 
  • Gasping for air 
  • Feeling “short of breath,” or unable to “catch” your breath 
  • Breathing too fast or shallowly, or using stomach, chest or neck muscles to help regulate breathing (this is an especially telling sign in children) 

You should seek medical attention if any of the above breathing issues apply to you. You should also seek professional assistance if you have a fever of 103 degrees or higher, as a temperature that high can be potentially dangerous. This goes for adults and children age 4 and older.  

If any of these symptoms accompany your fever you should also visit a doctor:  

  • Severe headache 
  • Persistent vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain while urinating 
  • Convulsions or seizures 
  • Unusual skin rash 
  • Unusual sensitivity to bright light 
  • Stiff neck and pain when you bend your head forward 
  • Fever has lingered around 101 and 102 degrees for longer than three days 

The CDC also recommends seeking medical help if you have chronic medical issues that are worsening. A failure to tend to these conditions could lead to permanent damage.  

Finally, if you’re dealing with dehydration as you battle a cold, you need to monitor the severity. You may be dealing with dehydration if you’re feeling restless, irritable, drinking eagerly when having a beverage or are experiencing a rapid pulse.  

If you experience one of more of these symptoms, you may be severely dehydrated and should visit the doctor’s office or ER:   

  • Lethargic or unconscious 
  • Absent or weak pulse 
  • Respiratory distress 
  • Delirium  
  • Sunken eyes  
  • Not able to drink or are drinking poorly  
  • No or low skin elasticity  
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Sunken soft spot on a baby’s head 

Remember, these guidelines are not all-inclusive. No one knows your body better than you do, so if you feel like your condition is abnormal or dangerously severe, call or visit your health care provider as soon as possible.  

Photo credit: Getty Images

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