8 Signs You Should See a Doctor About a Cold

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.

Young woman feeling lightheaded and faint.
iStock

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.

Man vomiting.
iStock

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.

Young woman coughing while doctor listens to lungs.
iStock

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.

Young woman with pain in chest.
iStock

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.

Woman sick with a fever.
iStock

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.

Confusion concept signs.
iStock

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.

Woman with trouble breathing.
iStock

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.

Man sick on the couch with a bad cold.
iStock

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.

The HealthCentral Editorial Team
Meet Our Writer
The HealthCentral Editorial Team

HealthCentral's team of editors based in New York City and Arlington, VA, collaborates with patient advocates, medical professionals, and health journalists worldwide to bring you medically vetted information and personal stories from people living with chronic conditions to help you navigate the best path forward with your health—no matter your starting point.