Cold, Flu, or Something Else: Do I Need To See A Doctor?
October 26, 20175 min read

When you start to get the sniffles and that scratchy throat, you know you’re getting sick. You’re more than acquainted with the symptoms of the common cold, because it’s the common cold. Much like everyone else, you probably get sick on average two or three times a year. Sometimes you just have a runny nose, other times you’re feeling absolutely miserable and you’re contemplating whether or not you should see a doctor.

We can certainly understand the hesitance in going to see a doctor. You’ll need to pay for your visit (at least a co-pay). You’ve also been sick before, so you might decide that you can stick it out this time around too. Sooner or later you’ll get better right? And let’s be honest, when you’re sick and miserable, you don’t want to leave the bed, let alone the house.

So, when is the time you should go see your doctor?

Cold and flu symptoms are nearly identical to each other. It’s important to note that just because you’ve gotten a flu shot doesn’t mean you’ll be 100% immune to getting the flu that year. It’ll certainly help you prevent the flu, just not entirely make you immune to it. Many doctors consider the flu as a cousin to the common cold, just with more severe symptoms. They can also have similarities to many other illnesses, so it can be difficult sometimes to decide when your chicken noodle soup isn’t going to cut it and you need to seek out professional advice.

Pay attention to your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. You should seek out your doctor if you notice the following:

You’re not getting any better

Generally, after a week you’re symptoms should be going away. You might still have a lingering cough or the sniffles, but you should be feeling much better in comparison to when you first got sick. If you’ve been sick for more than 2-3 weeks with little to no change in the severity of your symptoms, you may have something other than the common cold, such as a sinus infection. In this case, you’ll want to consult your physician about alternative treatments.

If you have a persistent fever (100.4+ degrees F for adults), and it hasn’t gone away in three days, it means you have an infection in your body that may be more serious than your average cold or flu.

You have shortness of breath or chest pains

If you have shortness of breath or chest pains, you might have a more serious disease such as heart disease, asthma, or pneumonia. A cold or a flu won’t cause you to have these sorts of breathing problems, so if you experience symptoms beyond a common cough, you should immediately contact your doctor.

If you have a chronic health condition

Even if you have a little sniffle or you’re coughing, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’ve already been diagnosed with a health condition, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or heart disease. You most likely won’t have anything to worry about, but even a small cold can have a compounded effect on your body when there’s already an underlying issue. It’s better to be safe and avoid complications altogether than trying to backtrack when things start to get serious.

You have severe headaches

Headaches aren’t anything new, even when you’re not sick. But if you have intense headaches that affect your ability to concentrate or complete your daily tasks, you may have something that’s more than just an added headache. Severe headaches accompanied with lightheadedness can be a sign of a central nervous system disorder like meningitis, not your average common cold or flu.

When your symptoms become unmanageable

Much to our dismay, feeling miserable comes with being sick, but you shouldn’t have to feel more miserable than you really have to. If your coughing or sniffling is preventing you from getting quality sleep, and your usual over-the-counter medications aren’t doing much to help you feel better, it’s time to see your doctor. You know your body best, so if you’re feeling worse than you usually do when you’re sick, don’t try to tough it out; put down that chicken noodle soup and seek out your physician. After all, that’s what they’re for: to help you.

LabFinder is a no-cost, online platform for people to easily schedule their medical tests and view results securely.  The LabFinder team is passionate about improving the ‘patient and doctor experience’ through better communication, reduce out-of-pocket expenses and making everyone know more about their own medical tests.  The mission of LabFinder is simple: we want to be solution to you and get you the test results you deserve so you can make right choices about your health.

Written by: LabFinder Team / Approved by: Dr. Robert Segal, M.D.