Feeling Sick? Here's When You Should See a Doctor

Dietrich Easter

Haven't we all struggled with the age-old question: should I go see a doctor? In this article, we'll talk about when your illness has probably progressed from the sniffles to something more serious. 

When should you go to the doctor's office? If you're feeling concerned about anything related to your health or the health of your loved one, then it's perfectly acceptable to go to the doctor. In other words, there isn't really a "wrong" time to go see a physician. However, there are some specific criteria you should look out for that can indicate your illness is more serious than usual.  

So let's dive into it. Above all, don't feel bad about going to the doctor if you're feeling nervous or unsure about something - believe me when I say, they've seen everything, and no one is going to look down on you if you were genuinely worried about an illness. 

When is a Sickness Serious Enough to Go to the Doctors Office? 

Before we go any further, we should be clear that this article is not meant to be medical advice and that if you're worried you may be experiencing a serious health event you should contact a physician immediately. 

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, let's talk about some times you should consider going to see the doctor

When to see the doctor: 

  • See a Doctor When an Abnormal Ailment Occurs
  • See a Doctor When a Sickness Involves Your Breathing or Airway 
  • Lean Towards Seeing a Doctor if a Child is Sick (Especially an Infant) 
  • See a Doctor if You Are Alone 
  • Consider Seeing a Doctor if You Have Mobility Problems 
  • Lean Toward Seeing a Doctor if You Have Immune Compromise 
  • Consult a Doctor If You're Not Trained 

  • In the next sections, we'll look at each of these issues in some depth. 

    See a Doctor When an Abnormal Ailment Occurs

    We've all had a runny nose or a sore throat. These illnesses are common throughout the year and we all pretty much know how they go. Sometimes you'll have a fever for a day. Other times your nose will run like a hose, and you have a bad sore throat. All these symptoms are within the realm of "normal" (however, they can still be dangerous depending on the person - more on that later). 

    So if that's normal, what's not normal? Well, again, it differs depending on the person, but a few examples of abnormal would be . . . a fever that's lasting longer than usual and is especially high. A sore throat that hurts worse than you've ever felt before. An inability to eat or drink or get out of bed. An inability to get good rest at night. 

    It's pretty simple: if something new and unfamiliar happens, it's not a bad idea to contact your doctor. Sure, it might be nothing serious (hopefully that's the case!), but at least you'll have learned something, and you'll know for next time. 

    Now let's talk about different parts of the body. 

    See a Doctor When a Sickness Involves Your Breathing or Airway 

    There are times when a sickness becomes serious because it affects a specific part of the body. Other times, something that seems like it's no big deal can turn into something much more serious. Let's talk about a few symptoms that should be immediate warning signs that you need to get some help!

    See a doctor in the following cases: 

  • If your breathing becomes difficult: You have to breathe to live, so if anything comes in the way of your breathing you need to fix it right away. Should you wait until your breathing becomes really difficult to see a doctor? No. Consult a doctor at the first sign of trouble breathing - this isn't something you want to play around with, and it can progress faster than you think. 
  • If you begin to have pains in your chest: Chest pain or discomfort can be an indicator of more than just a heart attack. If you're having any chest pain or tightness then it's important to get this checked by a physician. Too many people brush off the early warning signs only to wait until their illness progresses to a life-threatening condition. 
  • If your head doesn't feel right: Know what's in your head? A brain. And that brain is relatively (okay, a little more than that) important. If you have a headache that feels different from normal, you should contact a physician. Also, if you feel any trouble speaking or have numbness on one side of your body this is a sign of a stroke, and you should call 911. 

  • Now let's talk about specific groups of people. 

    Lean Towards Seeing a Doctor if a Child is Sick (Especially an Infant) 

    A healthy adult is less likely to be affected by a sickness than someone at extremes of age or condition. What might be normal symptoms for a grown adult could be something very dangerous for a young child. 

    If your child isn't eating or drinking while sick, or if they don't seem like they're getting better, then it's a good time to contact a doctor. Also, if a child has a very high fever, then it's important to get them to help. 

    Lastly, know that very young infants shouldn't have a fever at all - so if your newborn baby has a temperature, then it's best to get them to see a physician. Also, premature infants are even more vulnerable to sickness, so have a low threshold for getting help if they begin to act abnormally. 

    Another reason to be careful with children is that the very young ones can't communicate what they feel. Also, they are less likely to understand the importance of drinking fluids when sick. For this reason, don't hesitate to go to the doctor if you're child appears sick - even if the child is fine, the doctor can tell you what to look for in the future. 

    Let's look at a few other times to see a doctor. 

    See a Doctor if You Are Alone 

    Now to talk about some less common reasons you might want to go to the doctor's office. First, if you don't have anyone with you, it's smart to see the doctor sooner rather than later. Why? Because if something serious happens, there will be nobody to take you to the hospital. Of course, you can always dial 911, but it's better if you don't let things progress to that point. 

    If you live alone, it might be worth telling a friend or neighbor to ensure at least someone is regularly checking on you. Sure, you don't want to get them sick too, but if something goes wrong there will be someone who can lend you a hand. 

    Consider Seeing a Doctor if You Have Mobility Problems 

    Another time to consider seeing a doctor sooner rather than later is if you have mobility troubles. Now, there could be any number of issues that cause a person to struggle getting around - the key is to remember: when a healthy person gets sick, even they have trouble getting around. If you already have trouble moving and walking, then when you're sick it's possible that you won't even be able to get to the bathroom. 

    The danger is that you'll fall and hurt yourself, or you'll be unable to take care of yourself with food, water, and regular hygiene. 

    Consider Seeing a Doctor Sooner if You Have Immune Compromise 

    If you know that you have an immune system deficiency then it's important to contact a doctor at the first sign of sickness. People who have compromised immune systems will have much more trouble fighting infection, and what would be a minor illness to others can be a health emergency for someone with a weakened immune system. 

    Keep in mind that older adults and very young infants often have more trouble fighting off infections, so don't hesitate to call the doctor in these cases. 

    Consult a Doctor If You're Not Trained 

    If you're a nurse or paramedic, then you likely have some understanding of when a sickness has become serious and when it's nothing to worry about. However, if you're untrained, then it can be easy to confuse serious health emergencies for something benign (and vice versa). 

    If you don't know much about your or your family's health, and you have no training in medicine, then be quick to contact a doctor and ask for help. Also, take some time and get trained. Take a first aid class, get library books, ask questions when you're at the doctor’s office. Anything. 

    Conclusion: When to See a Doctor 

    The message of this article is as follows: there are no "rules" about when and when not to go to the doctor's office. If you're worried, go in! With that said, be on the lookout for any conditions that affect breathing, your heart, or your brain. Also, realize that small illnesses can be a serious thing for people with immune compromise or mobility problems. 

    Finally, do your best to get trained. Try to inform yourself about the serious conditions. This will make you more confident and will improve the care you provide to your family. Once you've trained yourself, take a moment to stock a good family first aid kit!