Go to doctor or not?
February 20, 2009 10:32 PM   Subscribe

When should you go to a doctor? I'm currently being prodded to go to the doctor for 'bronchitis,' after only a week of being sick, and only three days of coughing.

Last Saturday, I went to get with a tickle in my throat. I woke up on Sunday feeling so weak it reminded me of how I felt when waking up from general anesthesia.

My weakness got better, my cold symptoms got worse (sniffly, runny nose, headachey, etc.), and were joined by a cough. I'm not wheezing, but my voice has taken a beating. This is problematic, as one of my courses this term is in speaking, but I'll cope.

Do I have yellowy-green mucus that comes up when I cough? Yes, but everytime I get a cough I have yellowy-green mucus. Everytime. A doctor diagnozed this a while back as post-nasal drip.

Is there any tension or pain in my chest? Nope. The closest is... you know how menthol gives you this fake-cold sensation? It's kinda like that. If it is tension, or feeling of being constricted, it's still very weak.

Clearly, I have a chest cough (it's coming from the lungs, not from the back of my throat), but all of my symptoms are in the throat and head. My cough isn't too deep, it's just loud. Most of the feeling comes from feeling like I have a hairball in my throat, which sorta clears when I cough.

I feel much, much better than I did on Sunday. Yeah, coughing sucks, but it's not sucking me of all my lifeblood. I can still study and do work. As far as I'm concerned, my cough is just a side-effect of the stuffy nose etc.

My dad, however, is haranguing me (multiple times an hour) that I CLEARLY have bronchitis or pneumonia, I'm NOT feeling better like I think, I must be feeling WORSE because I'm coughing, and I Will Die.

Should I go to the doctor for medical reasons? I will not go to the doctor to shut my dad up--I'm not going to take resources out of the system. I just want to know if I'm being unreasonable in thinking that I'm on the mend.

I'm 20 years old and female, and in otherwise fine health. I'm in Canada, so paying for the doctor is not a consideration.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Obviously, your father worries about you, but 20 year olds dont die of pneumonia. Here are some guidelines on when to see a doctor when you have a cough. Give it a few days.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:41 PM on February 20, 2009

I decide to go to the doctor when someone else notices that I'm sick and says to me "hey, you should maybe go see a doctor because you are sick." Get off your high horse and just go see one if you're not feeling 100% on Monday. Being contrary about it isn't going to make you better.
posted by phunniemee at 10:45 PM on February 20, 2009

I am not a doctor, I am not your doctor, etc..

However, I have had bronchitis before. What you describe sounds nothing like it. Not even close.

Sometimes when I get a cold, yes the hacking cough can hang around for up to a week to 10 days. Usually not, but sometimes. The time to worry is if the weakness comes back, or if you're coughing up LOTS of goopy stuff, or if when you breathe deeply it's obvious you have... something... in your lungs.

Or if you start puking. Still remember that as clear as it happened yesterday, when I had the bronchitis was the only time I ever puked so often that I couldn't keep anything down for a couple of days. It had subsided for a bit, so I decided to catch up on my hydration, and drank a bunch of nice, cool water, which felt so good. Then 30 minutes later it came back out, and because I'd been puking to the point of dry heaves, there was no bile or anything else left in me, so the water came back up nice and crystal clear. I felt for a moment like one of those fountains with the statues spraying out of the mouth and in that instant was both dismayed and fascinated.

So yeah, like I say, you don't sound to me like you have anything more than a cold, but YMMV and all that.
posted by barc0001 at 10:47 PM on February 20, 2009

20 year olds dont die of pneumonia

Pneumonia really isn't something to take lightly.

I had a really bad case of pneumonia just about a year ago. I was sick in total for about two and a half months, and, at its worst, I had to spend a night in the hospital. And this was all after I had be given antibiotics. Because the first doctor I saw (after being ill for five days) didn't give me antibiotics, I experienced some of the worst pain I have ever felt in my life three days later, due to complications. Because I was having so much trouble breathing, there were periods where I couldn't talk, couldn't think straight, couldn't even remember such basic things as my Social Security Number. I'm 25.

What I'm saying is, if you do have pneumonia, it can get a lot worse. No, it's very unlikely that you will die.. But these are your lungs we're talking about, here. You need them to BREATHE. Don't take that likely.

Worst case scenario, you get told by a doctor to take some cough syrup and your dad feels a bit better. Best case scenario, you get the antibiotics you need to have a safe and quick recovery. Do it.

(So far as comparing symptoms goes.. I never puked when I had pneumonia, which started out as bronchitis, unlike barc0001. But, beyond all of that, I have no clue what are symptoms you should worry about and what isn't. But a doctor does. And, if you've been sick for a week, it's really high time you got to one just in case.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:55 PM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about sucking resources out of the system. This is the type of thing that we have, y'know, doctors for.

What you're describing does sound like something worth having looked at. The bit about the menthol-like feeling would have me going in. Maybe it's nothing now, and maybe it will be fine later. But if that develops into a full-blown irritation and triggers bronchitis, you won't be able to get to a doctor fast enough. This happened to me once, and an hour to get to urgent care seemed like an eternity.
posted by azpenguin at 11:03 PM on February 20, 2009

Why not call your doctor and ask them if you need to come in. My rule is that if I can't sleep multiple nights because of a cough, and over the counter meds aren't doing it, then it's worth seeing a doc. Also, if the cough goes on for a week, it's worth it.

You may not die of pneumonia, but you could have something that could become better soon with treatment, that otherwise might take weeks to run its course.
posted by zippy at 11:25 PM on February 20, 2009

It actually sounds a lot like the virus that went through my family a few weeks ago - just a cough but with some other assorted feeling-sick (exhaustion, mostly). Cough medicines (especially Mucinex) did a pretty good job on it. If cough medicines aren't doing it for you and/or you're having trouble sleeping, of course I would see a doctor - if only to get better cough meds!

But otherwise, things can sound a lot worse than they feel, especially with coughs. Sometimes they're only as bad as they feel, sometimes they're as bad as they sound. You should think about calling the doctor's office to find out if they think you should come in.
posted by Lady Li at 11:40 PM on February 20, 2009

In the states whenever I wonder if I should go in or not I call the "advice nurse" and do what they tell me to do.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:11 AM on February 21, 2009

I got knocked to the mat with pneumonia which developed in less than a week from a bonchial thing like you described. It was pretty bad, and I could see how it could easily kill someone weak, aged, or immune suppressed. It also took a long time to recover from, even though I'm young, fit and otherwise healthy - I was weak for more than a month. Don't panic, but be very, very aware of any fluid-y gurgling sensations in your lungs, and hasten to a doc if they develop.
posted by lottie at 12:47 AM on February 21, 2009

Sounds similar to what my husband and I had a few weeks ago and I wish I hadn't waited so long to see the doctor. After about 8 days of chest congestion, coughing up mucus and generally feeling like crap, we both went to the doctor and were prescribed a 5-day antibiotic (azithromycin) and a cough suppressant (benzonatate). Less than 24 hours later, we both felt much, much better. Now that I know how effective these can be, next time I won't wait nearly so long to go see the doctor. It can really make a difference!
posted by platinum at 1:58 AM on February 21, 2009

Pneumonia is no joking matter. My mom had it the first week of December, and she ended up being in the hospital for almost a week and her lungs still aren't up to full capacity. Yea, you might not die from it, but the lingering affects can be annoying. I generally avoid the doctor myself, but being sick for a week like that, I'd go.
posted by jmd82 at 8:02 AM on February 21, 2009

If you're in Ontario, you can call Telehealth Ontario and talk to a nurse and see what he/she recommends.
posted by pised at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2009

Best answer: What David Fleming said. Your symptoms aren't severe - yet - but they are more serious and longer-lasting than they'd be with a common cold. Sometimes with infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, you can get sick, start feeling better, and WHAM get sick again because you never fully recovered from the initial illness, just gave the bacteria time to get a foothold.

Like you, I don't rush to the doctor right off the bat and I don't take unneccessary antibiotics. But part of being an adult is taking care of your heath. The doctor is better equipped than you to understand what you might be suffering from and have ideas for treating it. Just a few weeks ago I went to the doc for a cold that, though not severe, was lasting more than 7 days. I remembered that there are some things you can't self-diagnose: the doctor has been seeing sick people all winter, knows what illnesses are 'going around' in your community, has treated cases of all sorts of lung conditions before, and has a framework for classifying whether this is something worth treating seriously. You don't have any of that. You just don't. Let the doctor decide.

Your thinking about 'taking resources out of the system' is a little scary - the resources are there for you. The resources you'd take out of the system if you had a sudden, emergent illness requiring a middle-of-the-night ER visit and oxygen treatment are costlier and harder to provide. The best way to steward resources is to use them wisely - preventive health maintenance first, the home treatment for mild nonthreatening illnesses, then consultation with a doctor to preclude the possibility of more serious illness, then, and only if you need it, more resource-intensive treatment. There's a tiered nature to this system, and if you're being told by people they'd like you to see a doctor and you're worried enough to post here, you're on Tier 2, known as 'doctor.' The system provides this tier so you don't take out resources by waiting until you need Tier 3 and a lot of specialized care. If everyone went to the doctor when they're at the stage you are, our medical costs would be much lower and there'd be a lot shorter wait for hospital beds and many fewer deaths from hospital-caused infections. If you want to think strategically, take in the whole system in your considerations.

And finally, vomiting as a symptom does not always appear with bronchitis or pneumonia. Don't assume you don't have either if you're not vomiting. Again: a doctor has knowledge. You're just guessing.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll go to the doctor tomorrow.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:21 AM on February 21, 2009

There is actually an interim step. If you have a regular primary care doctor, call her and describe your symptoms. She will know the questions to ask and can then offer her opinion on whether you should get checked (although this opinion is usually that it can't hurt to come in).
posted by nax at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From your description, if I were friends with you in person, I'd be saying "y'know, this is worse than a cold, maybe time for a doc?" (And I'm a stubborn one, too.)

But this is really about your dad driving you nuts with nagging, isn't it? ;)
posted by desuetude at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2009

"20 year olds dont die of pneumonia"

Yes, they do, if they don't go to the doctor! Sheesh.

(If you play around with Google and "aged 20" "died of pneumonia" you can find lots of examples, mostly from pre-antibiotic days. Because these days people get antibiotics from the doctor).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:58 PM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the end it's up to you. But here's a cautionary tale: I went for months with wheezing, a cough, asthma-like symptoms which I ignored, only to have them blossom into a serious problem that sent me to an emergency clinic 4 months later, with a totally surprising diagnosis related to my thyroid, of all things.
posted by Piscean at 6:24 PM on February 21, 2009

You sound exactly the way I've been since the start of the year -- post-nasal drip, followed by a hellcold, laryngitis, and now pneumonia. I probably could have avoided the pneumonia if I'd gone to the doc earlier.

You have a great national health care system. You should be using it for stuff like this.
posted by dw at 11:42 AM on February 22, 2009

Response by poster: Went to a quicky walk-in clinic. Doctor said my lungs sounded fine, but gave me an antibiotics scrip, just in case.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:11 PM on February 22, 2009

There's an alternative. Call the doctor's office and ask if you should come in. One of the useful things about having a regular doctor is that you can call and get advice. They don't want you to come in, share your germs, and expose yourself to more germs, unless necessary. This has saved me a few visits, a few times they said to come in, and once they sent me to the ER. Most doctors have 24x7 coverage, so there's always somebody who woll call you back.
posted by theora55 at 1:34 PM on February 22, 2009

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