Carefree M.D. Blog

When to See a Doctor for a Cold

Carefree MD

April 28, 2021 | Blog

Catching a common cold is, well, quite common. A little sore throat and cough usually don’t cause too much of an issue. Rest and drinking fluids should help. Right? But, what if your symptoms don’t go away? What if they get worse? Check this list of symptoms to find out when you should see a doctor for the common cold.

Symptoms of a Common Cold

Not all symptoms of the common cold mean that you need to see a doctor. Generally, a simple cold should disappear within a couple of days. These symptoms only pose a problem if they persist over several weeks.

There are various ways a cold can present itself. Although this list seems long, it’s more likely that you’ll only experience a handful of these symptoms.

Nasal symptoms of the common cold

  • Congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Loss of smell or taste (anosmia)
  • Sneezing
  • Watery nasal secretions
  • Postnasal drip or drainage in the back of your throat

Head symptoms of the common cold

  • Watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Whole-body symptoms of the common cold

  • Fatigue or general tiredness
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chest discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing deeply

8 Cases When You Should See a Doctor for Your Cold

Usually, when you have a cold, rest and drinking plenty of fluids make it disappear quickly. Occasionally, you can even take over-the-counter medication for headaches or coughs. But if you find yourself in any of these situations, it’s best to see a doctor for your cold.

1. You Have Trouble Breathing

Neither a cold nor the flu should make it hard to breathe. If you’re having difficulty breathing, you likely have a different illness. Asthma and pneumonia often come with that symptom. And they’re also much more serious than a cold.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have trouble breathing.

2. Your Chest Hurts

Chest discomfort is a usual cold symptom. But, chest pain isn’t. You may have heart disease or another serious illness if you have chest pain. If your chest hurts, you should seek immediate medical attention.

3. Your Fever Doesn’t Get Better

A low-grade fever is easy to cure with home remedies and over-the-counter medication. But, monitoring your body temperature is crucial when you have a cold. You should see a doctor for your cold in case of any of these fever-related situations:

  • You have a temperature between 100.4°F - 103°F (38°C - 39.4°C), and it doesn’t get better after 3 days
  • Your fever goes above 103°F (39.4°C) at any time

For infants younger than 3 months, a low-grade fever could be a sign of infection. Take them to a doctor if their temperature doesn’t go down. 

For older children, a low-grade fever isn’t an issue as long as they’re eating well and happy to play. But if their fever rises or doesn’t go away, take them to a pediatrician.

4. You Can’t Keep Food or Water Down

Nausea or vomiting does happen sometimes when you have a severe cold. But, you should get better soon. If nausea and vomiting persist, and you find it hard or impossible to keep anything down, you need to see a doctor.

Your body needs fluids, especially when you have a cold. If you can’t keep water down, you’ll suffer from dehydration. If you seek medical attention, they can provide you with appropriate fluids in the form of an IV.

5. You Can’t Get Rid of a Cough

If your cough doesn’t go away, it could be due to a number of things. You may have postnasal drip. This is when the mucus from your nose drips in your throat and makes you cough. Antihistamines should help if this is the reason for your cough.

However, it could also be a more serious condition. Asthma or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can also present themselves as a consistent cough. Your doctor can tell you what to do for it.

Finally, a lasting severe cough could also be a whooping cough. 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.

6. Your Headache Won’t Go Away

Headaches are a nuisance already, but a headache that doesn’t go away is especially annoying. Since headaches are a relatively common symptom of a cold, a lot of people don’t take them seriously. But, a persistent headache could be a sign of a greater issue. Stroke, meningitis, and encephalitis all begin with a headache.

If your headache doesn’t go away or it gets worse, you should see a doctor about it.

7. Your Throat Hurts So Badly You Can’t Swallow

A sore throat is one of the most common signs of a cold. But, pain in your throat that prevents you from swallowing isn’t normal. It could be a sign of an infection or an injury. If you feel like your throat hurts so much that you can’t swallow, that’s the time to see a doctor for your cold.

8. Your Congestion Won’t Clear Up

A blocked nose is almost a minor symptom of a cold. But, if the mucus from your nose doesn’t clear up, it can develop into a sinus infection (sinusitis). That’s a real headache. Seeing a doctor if your cold develops into sinusitis can treat the symptoms quicker.

Talk to a Doctor About Your Cold Symptoms

Although the cold is a common illness, you should still take it seriously. A lot of other conditions start out with the same symptoms. And even if it’s “just” a cold, it can become so bad that you need to see a doctor.

The fatigue of the cold can often make it hard for you to see a doctor. So, why not try to talk to a board-certified physician from the comfort of your home with Carefree MD?

All you need is an internet connection and a mobile or desktop device. Once you sign up, you’ll get unlimited appointments where you can discuss your concerns about your cold with a doctor. 

Do you need to see a doctor for a cold now? Sign up for Carefree MD to discuss your symptoms, get treatment, and find relief with telemedicine today!


The Carefree MD blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed doctor or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

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