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Although many parents rush their kids to the doctor at the first sign of sickness, adults generally are much less quick to schedule an appointment when their own health is in question. Here's how to tell whether your symptoms require professional attention:
The problem: A cold that won't go away When to get help: If your upper respiratory infection lasts more than 10 days and is accompanied by a fever (101 degrees F. or higher), see your doctor -- you may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics, advises Arlene Brown, M.D., assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, in Albuquerque. Additional symptoms, such as a cough with green, brown or bloody sputum, could indicate bronchitis or pneumonia.
The problem: Fever When to get help: A fever that is higher than 101 degrees F. and lasts longer than 48 hours -- despite treatment with acetaminophen or ibuprofen -- warrants a trip to your doctor, says Brown. You may have a bacterial illness. A very high fever -- over 103.5 degrees F. -- could indicate something serious, such as meningitis.
The problem: Stomach pain/vomiting When to get help: See your physician if you're vomiting but have no bowel movements for more than 24 hours -- you could have an intestinal blockage. Also get checked out if you can't keep down fluids for more than 24 hours -- a risk for dehydration -- or if you vomit more than a teaspoon of blood, which could signal anything from a perforated ulcer to cancer.
The problem: Cuts When to get help: See your doctor if the bleeding can't be controlled by direct pressure for 15 minutes; if the cut crosses a joint (you may need stitches, tendon or joint repair and/or antibiotics); if the blood is pumping rather than oozing (an artery may be damaged); or if the cut is so deep that you can see a joint, bone or muscle (you'll need stitches). The sooner you get medical attention the better, because some cuts that are left open for more than 12 hours can no longer be stitched closed, and you may end up with a nasty scar. -- Deborah Pike Olsen