8 Signs You Should See a Doctor About a Cold
Mar 28, 2012 (updated Feb 4, 2015)
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Is it a cold or something more serious?
Colds are viral infections that typically will go away--with or without treatment from a doctor--in about 14 days. They generally do not require antibiotics, which are not designed to treat viruses, only bacterial infections. But some symptoms are red flags that your cold might be turning into something more serious. We'll look at eight cold symptoms that should make you consider seeing a doctor.
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Fainting or feeling like you might faint
If you are suffering from a cold and you begin to feel lightheaded or dizzy, or if you actually faint, you should seek medical attention immediately.
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Persistent or severe vomiting
Drainage can sometimes cause vomiting in people who have developed a cold. Usually resting the stomach and then slowly reintroducing only clear liquids such as water, apple juice, or sports drinks will help ease vomiting in people with colds. But if vomiting persists or becomes very severe, you should see your doctor immediately. Persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous.
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A cough that stays for more than 10 days
Coughing is part of having a cold, but this symptom should disappear in about 10 days after you first begin experiencing cold symptoms. If your cough is still hanging around after 10 days, it's time to see a doctor to ensure that your cold has not developed into bronchitis or some other type of infection.
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Pain or pressure in your chest
When you've been coughing for days from a bad cold, you might think it's natural for your chest to be sore. However, if you experience chest pain that fluctuates with breathing--a condition called pleurisy--you may be developing pneumonia. You should see a doctor immediately.
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A prolonged, high fever
As with chest pain, a prolonged high fever can be a sign that your cold has turned into another kind of infection. Fevers over 102 degrees in adults and 103 degrees in children are a symptom of pneumonia or other serious types of infections and require medical attention.
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Feeling confused or disoriented
If you're dealing with a cold, you may be familiar with the "brain fog" that comes from dealing with inflammation in your sinuses and the side effects of some cold and flu medications. If this "fog" turns into confusion or disorientation, however, you should have a friend or relative take you to your doctor's office or to the nearest emergency room.
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Shortness of breath
Experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing after you've developed a cold can be a sign that your cold is actually a more serious condition. This symptom is commonly seen in people who have pneumonia, which can be life-threatening if it is not treated immediately.
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Symptoms that get worse instead of better
One of the only good things you can say about a cold is that the longer you have it, the less severe its symptoms get. If your cold appears to be getting worse instead of better, or if you've experienced some improvement and then suddenly feel sick again, it's time to visit your health care professional.