What to Do When You Get Sick

Figuring Out Common Illnesses So You Can Feel Better


Check Your Symptoms

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If you are sick, you most likely ended up here because you want to feel better. Although we can't wave a magic wand and make that happen, we can help guide you through the best way to manage your illness so you can recover as quickly as possible. We are talking about common illnesses here - like upper respiratory infections, colds, stomach bugs and the flu. 

You'll want to start by figuring out which symptoms are bothering you. If you have a cough and headache, you will treat that differently than if you have vomiting and a fever. 

We can help figure out what is causing most of your common symptoms. To do that, start by finding the symptoms you have and see what could be causing them:

Most of these symptoms are caused by minor illnesses and conditions. But they could be signs of something more serious. 


Determine Causes of Symptoms

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After you have determined which symptoms you have, you can try to figure out what is causing those symptoms. 

If you have mostly respiratory symptoms like a cough, congestion or a runny nose, you probably have a common cold or other upper respiratory infection

If you have respiratory symptoms but you also have a fever and body aches, it's more likely that you have influenza, or the flu

If you have vomiting and/or diarrhea, you probably have a stomach virus

If you have a runny nose and itching eyes, nose, throat or skin, you could be dealing with allergies

Most of these illnesses are self-limiting, meaning they go away on their own with no treatment. However, if your symptoms hang around for more than a week or so without getting any better, you should consult your healthcare provider. 


Consider Seeing a Healthcare Provider

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That brings us to our next step - figuring out if you need to seek medical attention. Most common illnesses can be dealt with at home without a visit to the doctor. But there are some cases that shouldn't be ignored. If you aren't sure where you stand, we can help you figure it out.

When to see a doctor for:

If you still aren't certain if your symptoms are cause for concern, call your health care provider and talk to the medical staff. If you don't have a primary care physician, most insurance companies have a free nurse line you can call to talk about your symptoms and find out what you should do. 


Find Treatment

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Prescription Medicines

If you have to see a doctor for your symptoms, she may prescribe a medication to help treat it. Antiviral medicines are often prescribed for the flu or you could get antibiotics if you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection such as strep throat or pneumonia. Be sure to take the prescription exactly as prescribed and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions. If you are given an antibiotic, take all of the prescribed doses, even if you start to feel better. Stopping too soon can lead to antibiotic resistance, meaning your infection could come back or the bacteria may not be killed by that antibiotic in the future. 

Over-the-Counter Medicines

If you have a minor illness, there are a lot of things you can to do to get some relief from your symptoms. There is an endless supply of over the counter medicines that can help with common cold and flu symptoms. There are also plenty of options for relieving your symptoms without medicine. 

One of the hardest parts about treating your symptoms is figuring out which cold medicine is the right one for you. It's important to choose one that only treats the symptoms you have. And to make sure you aren't taking more than one medicine that contains the same ingredients. 

Medication Free Treatment Options

If you don't want to take medicine or you are looking for additional ways to get relief from your symptoms, there are several things you can try. 

Rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot, saline spray or NeilMed Sinus Rinse is a great way to clear out mucus and congestion. Humidifiers are also really helpful if you are stuffy or have a cough at night. Just remember to clean them well and only use a cool mist humidifier in a child's room (warm mist humidifiers can cause burns). It's important to stay hydrated and drink even more fluids than normal when you are sick.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

If you are dealing with vomiting and diarrhea, be careful about taking over the counter medicines to make it stop. Despite popular belief, Pepto-Bismol shouldn't be given to children and taking anti-diarrhea medicines like Immodium can actually cause more serious infections by preventing the virus or bacteria that is causing the diarrhea from leaving your body. 

Whether you see your health care provider or not, there are things you can do at home to feel better. 


Know What to Expect

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Pretty much everyone knows what to expect when they get a cold. We have all had them. Most of us get them at least a few times a year. But there are some illnesses that you might not be as familiar with and knowing what to expect before you get sick could be helpful. 

For instance, if you have never had influenza—or the flu—you may not realize how bad it will make you feel. It is much worse than just a bad cold and can be very serious, especially if you are in a high-risk group

Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu and other respiratory illnesses but if you have never had it, you probably don't realize just how serious it is. You may have a high fever, a painful cough and it often hurts just to breath because of the infection in your lungs. 

On the other hand, bronchitis, which is another frequent complication of respiratory infections, is not nearly as serious. Although it is characterized by a frequent and annoying cough, it is often caused by a virus and taking antibiotics won't help. Bronchitis typically resolves on its own. 

Even illnesses such as ear infections and strep throat, which are very common in children, may be surprisingly painful for adults. 

Most people have dealt with the dreaded stomach flu before. But sometimes the vomiting or diarrhea may be worse than you thought it should be, so you need to be aware of things to watch for and know when to seek medical attention. Did you know if you or your child are vomiting green bile you should go to the doctor or hospital? If you can't keep any fluids down at all, you can easily become dehydrated and may need IV fluids. 


Stay Healthy

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It's impossible to avoid all illnesses all the time. We all live on planet Earth and there are germs here. However, there are quite a few things you can do to cut down on the number of illnesses you get or the chances that you will get sick. 

Among the most important things you can do is to wash your hands. It's simple but so often not done correctly or often enough. Wash or clean your hands before you touch your face, before you eat, after using the restroom or changing a diaper, and before you prepare food. 

If you have a cough, use your elbow to cover your cough instead of your hands. Coughing into your hands just allows you to spread those germs to everything you touch, including other people. Even if you aren't sick, make it a habit of coughing into your elbow or a tissue to stop the spread of germs. 

Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. We hear this advice all the time for a variety of reasons, but it is really the best way to keep your immune system working like it should be. Your immune system is your body's defense against germs and it can't do it's job properly if you aren't healthy. 

Get vaccinated. Whether it's vaccinating your kids against the myriad of infectious diseases that are out there or getting your yearly flu vaccine, take the time to do it. Vaccines are safe and effective. Even when flu vaccines don't provide complete protection, those that have been vaccinated almost always have less serious symptoms and shorter illnesses. Thousands of people die from the flu each year. It is preventable - get the vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider about which vaccines are recommended for you and your kids so you will all be fully protected. 

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Article Sources
  • Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. Accessed June 17, 2016.
  • Get Vaccinated | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/vaccinations.htm. Accessed June 17, 2016. 1.
  • Common Cold. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commoncold/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed June 17, 2016.