QUESTION: When my husband gets a cold, he’s bedridden for days and constantly complaining of symptoms but when he recently injured himself pretty seriously while working on a project at the house, I couldn’t get him to take time to rest or go see a doctor.
It had me wondering — how do you know when you should see a doctor or when a little R&R is enough to fix you up?
DR. RASKIN: I have several patients a month who when I ask them how long their “cold symptoms” have been going on, they tell me about four hours. They come in right away to try to “nip it in the bud” and prevent full-blown pneumonia. On the other end of the spectrum, I have patients who have come in with black necrotic toes, which need amputation, but they waited six weeks to come in because they “wanted to see if it would get better on its own.”
Whether or not to see the doctor can be a tricky question to answer precisely because circumstances are different for everyone. The right answer really depends on the individual and what symptoms the patient is experiencing.
For an elderly patient or those with a weakened immune system from medications or those with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes, it is very important to discuss any new symptoms, such as fevers or trouble breathing with the doctor as soon as possible. For most other people with normal immune systems, cold symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat and mild chest congestion will get better with rest, increased fluid intake and the tincture of time. If there are signs of persistent fever, shortness of breath or coughing up blood, do not wait to see if time makes you better!
As far as muscular or skeletal injuries, many low-grade sprains or strains will get better with ice, rest, wrapping with an ace bandage, elevation of the extremity and over-the-counter pain relievers. But persistent pain or swelling needs to get checked out by the doctor. Any redness, which starts spreading up an arm or leg, could indicate a serious infection and needs immediate attention.
There are certain symptoms that should be checked out right away. These include chest pain, shortness of breath and rectal bleeding. Although all of these may in fact turn out to be nothing serious, they all have the potential to be life threatening. Head trauma or fainting are other good examples of needing to get checked out right away, as there may be a gap between the trauma or event and the onset of serious symptoms, such as headache.
I never fault anyone for coming in the office to check something out, even if it turns out to be a mild, harmless issue. It is only those patients who wait too long who can get into a lot of trouble by delaying care that should be started right away. So, the best advice I can give is to use common sense and establish a relationship with a doctor you trust, a doctor who is both reassuring and who takes your symptoms seriously. Then, leave it to the professionals and come in to be seen.
Palisadian Damon Raskin, M.D., is a board-certified internist who offers preventative medicine, concierge services and addiction medicine to patients in and around the Palisades. Contact: (310) 459-4333. To submit your medical questions, like or follow us on Facebook.com/PalisadianPost or Twitter.com/PalisadianPost and send a message.
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