When Should I See a Doctor for a Cold or Flu?

You already know that a scratchy throat, annoying cough, and lots of sneezing are part of the game. You can also probably count on a stuffy nose and some aches and pains. But when is it time to put down the chicken soup and get some advice from a pro?

Take stock of your symptoms and see if they fit into one of these patterns:

You have trouble breathing or chest pain .

Your cold or flu shouldn't make you short of breath or cause your chest to hurt. If that's happening to you, it could be a sign of a more serious problem, such as heart disease, asthma, or pneumonia.

Call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

Your fever doesn't get better.

If it won't go away it might mean you've got another infection in your body that needs treatment. Generally, a fever for an adult is a temperature over 100.4 degrees F.

You can't keep anything down.

Your body needs fluids to work right. If you can't drink anything without vomiting, you may need to go to your doctor's office or the hospital to get fluids through an IV.

It hurts to swallow.

That's not normal. Although a sore throat can make it hurt a little to swallow, severe pain can be a sign of an infection or injury that needs to be treated by a doctor.

You can't get rid of your cough .

If it doesn't go away, it's likely due to postnasal drip -- mucus that moves from your nose into your throat. It can be treated with antihistamines. But it could also be related to asthma or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Your doctor can tell you what to do for it.

A lasting, severe cough is also the main symptom of whooping cough, a disease that's become more common in many parts of the U.S. So, if you've been hacking away for more than 2-3 weeks, your doctor may give you a test to see if you've got it.

Your congestion and headache won't go away.

Colds and allergies that block your nose with mucus can lead to a sinus infection. If your cold medicine doesn't give you relief, see your doctor for more treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on September 17, 2016



CDC. “Pertussis (Whooping Cough).”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Common Cold."

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