When Should You See a Doctor About Your Cold Symptoms?

The odd sniffle or sneeze should not send you running to your doctor for treatment. Most colds clear up on their own with enough rest and time. However, there are times when colds turn more serious or are in fact more serious illnesses like the flu or strep throat. In cases such as these, it's important to see your doctor for treatment. So, when should you seek treatment for your cold symptoms?

You have an overly sore throat

If your throat is a little scratchy or uncomfortable, that's one thing. But if your throat is so sore that you're struggling to swallow, that's quite another. You may be suffering from strep throat, which can spread and become very serious if not treated with antibiotics. Often, people start off with a cold, and then when their immune system is busy fighting the cold, they contract strep.

Your chest hurts

If your cold has moved into your chest and is causing chest pain, then you might have either bronchitis or pneumonia. Both can be very serious if not treated with antibiotics. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the respiratory tracts that lead directly into your lungs, whereas pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Bronchitis can progress to pneumonia if left untreated, and while it may sound unlikely, people do die from pneumonia every year.

You have a high fever

A cold does not typically cause a fever—at least not a significant one. If you have a fever above 103 degrees, you likely have the flu or a bacterial infection of some sort. See a doctor if you have a fever over 103 or if you have a fever over 101 that does not come down after you take a fever-reducing medication. While a fever is your body's way of fighting off pathogens, too high a fever can be dangerous and often calls for medical intervention.

You can't stop coughing

The occasional cough isn't too serious, but if you are coughing more than a few times per hour or having coughing fits that you can't seem to stop, this is a bigger problem. You could have pneumonia or even pertussis (a condition that is very serious if you pass it on to children). Your doctor can diagnose you and prescribe medications to stop your cough before your illness becomes more serious.

While you don't need to see the doctor every time you have a cold, it is important to keep the indications above in mind. If you have any of the above problems, it's best to contact your primary care physician.