If you’re sick, you’re probably not feeling your best. You might be running a fever, have a dry cough, and sneezing all over the place.
But if you start to feel more serious symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain, it’s time to get checked out by a doctor. Here are some of the signs to confirm whether you just have a common cold or not.
1. Your symptoms lasted more than four days
If your symptoms have lasted more than four days, it’s time to explore other possibilities.
The common cold is usually limited to a three to four-day run, so if you’re still sick after that time frame, something else may be going on.
Take note of when your symptoms first presented themselves and how long they’ve been going for. If it’s been five days, six days, or even a week with no improvement, consult your doctor.
2. You just got back from a trip
If you’ve just returned from an international trip, your symptoms may be a sign of something other than the common cold.
While many travelers return home with runny noses or scratchy throats, these symptoms can also signal more serious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.
There are certain red flags that will cause doctors to suspect a non-common-cold diagnosis, such as the patient having recently traveled abroad.
In general, doctors will ask what medications you’re taking and whether you’ve been on any trips recently in order to help them pinpoint the issue.
3. You have an intense fever
A fever is certainly possible when you have a cold, but it’s not common—especially a high one. If your temperature soars to 101 degrees Fahrenheit or above, that could be a sign of strep throat, which may require antibiotics to treat.
Other indications your illness isn’t just a cold are as follows:
- You’re experiencing intense abdominal pain and diarrhea
- You have pain when you urinate
- You think you might be pregnant
- Or the symptoms are very severe—for example if they don’t lessen after seven days
4. Your stomach is acting up
While there are plenty of stomach symptoms associated with the common cold, you’ll want to get medical help immediately if yours are severe.
If you’re vomiting or have diarrhea or pain in your abdomen and these symptoms last for more than a few days or are accompanied by a loss of appetite, it’s time to see a doctor.
Some of the most common reasons behind prolonged gastrointestinal discomfort include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, constipation (which commonly occurs as a result of dehydration), acid reflux, and Crohn’s disease.
If your stomach issues aren’t life-threatening but continue to make your days miserable in ways that disrupt your quality of life, do some research on whether probiotics might be able to help you.
Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt and kombucha tea. Talk with your pharmacist about getting them in pill form as well.
5. Your chest hurts or you’re having difficulty breathing
If you’re experiencing chest pain when you breathe, cough, or sneeze—especially if the pain is made worse by a deep breath—it may not be a common cold. The same goes for any pain in your chest that comes on suddenly or intensifies when you take a deep breath.
If you’re coughing up green or yellow mucus, wheezing, having some trouble breathing, or have a high fever and feel very weak or very tired (aka classic bronchitis symptoms), this is also definitely not a common cold.
6. You feel body pain
If your cold symptoms are accompanied by body pain such as in your back or leg muscles, it’s possible you’re experiencing a flu-related illness.
The two can be difficult to distinguish from one another, but the flu tends to be more severe and is often accompanied by high fever and general aches and pains in addition to cold-like symptoms.
If possible, stay in a separate room away from family members or roommates so that they don’t get sick too.
Be sure to stay hydrated, get enough rest, and monitor your symptoms so that they don’t worsen. You’ll be back up on your feet in no time!
It’s important to recognize when a common cold becomes something more serious because certain conditions require immediate medical attention. If you resonate with the above signs, immediately visit a doctor.