Maybe you woke up not feeling well or maybe it snuck up on you slowly as the day progressed. Either way, you know what that feeling means. You are sick. Once you have accepted this fact, your next step will be to figure out what to do next. Here are some simple guidelines designed to help you assess your situation so you can make informed decisions about how to manage your health.
Identify your Symptoms
Once you realize you are sick, a smart first step is to identify the symptoms you are experiencing. What body part or parts are affected? What does it feel like in comparison to how you normally feel? Is it made better or worse when you take certain actions? Do I have a fever? These are all questions that will help you thoroughly understand what your body is going through.
For example, you may be experiencing a cough and some sinus congestion. You may describe the cough as dry or wet depending if it appears to be caused by mucus or fluid in the throat or lungs. Your congestion may appear to focused in the sinus or may accompany a runny nose. Whether or not you have an elevated body temperature may help determine if your symptoms are caused by an illness, such as a viral or bacterial infection, or an allergen. Being able to thoroughly identify and categorize your symptoms will help make sure you plan for the best care for you.
Basic At-Home Care
With the majority of illnesses, rest is often advised. This allows your body to direct more energy to fighting the illness as you limit your other daily activities. Rest does not necessarily require you to sleep for longer than normal, though it may be an appropriate option. It may just mean to avoid any activity that aggravates the condition, such as avoiding allergens when dealing with a respiratory infection.
Actively working to stay hydrated is also wise. If you are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, consuming enough water may help keep mucus thinner. Not only can this make it easier to expel from mucus from the body through coughing up yellow mucus, sneezing or blowing your nose, it may also lessen the feeling of pressure in the chest or sinuses that accompanies the congestion.
Proper hydration also gives you body a better platform on which to fight the bacterial or viral infection, or allergen causing your symptoms. Dehydration can affect your body’s ability to regulate it’s temperature which can be dangerous. If your illness results in diarrhea or vomiting, proper hydration is important to maintain your bodily functions, maintain proper blood pressure and help avoid organ failure. If you are having difficulties keeping down food, adding a sports drink to your hydration plan will help ensure you are replenishing your electrolytes.
Using Over-the-Counter Medications
Depending on your symptoms, over-the-counter (OTC) medications may be appropriate. Cold and flu medicines come in a variety of formulas allowing you to find a version designed to more specifically fight the symptoms you have. This can be especially important if you are selecting a medication to manage symptoms of digestive issues, as selecting the wrong formula may make your symptoms worse. For example, an OTC medication designed to relieve constipation will likely worsen symptoms of diarrhea.
When in doubt, speak to a pharmacist regarding your symptoms and what medication they may recommend. They can also make sure that your medication will not negatively interact with any other medications, prescription or OTC, or supplements you may be taking to manage other conditions. Many medications perform more than one function. For example, many cold medications also contain a pain reliever to help ease the pain associated with sinus pressure. If you normally take another pain killer, prescription or OTC, during the day it is important to confirm that using a particular cold formula will not cause additional health problems, such as stomach bleeding.
Finally, read all material that comes with all medications, prescription or OTC. The written instructions will provide guidance on proper dosing, how often you should take a dose, and any dosage maximums that should not be exceeded. Dosage maximums can refer to the maximum safe dosage during a 24 hour period as well as for how many days the medication should be taken before seeking professional medical attention.
When You Think You Need a Doctor
Depending on the severity, duration or nature of your symptoms, as well as any other conditions you may have that can become more complicated with the onset of an illness, you may determine it is best to seek the care of a medical professional. You may feel comfortable scheduling a regular office visit with your family practice physician if symptoms are manageable and no immediate risk to life, limb or vision seems present. If so, make sure you are prepared to thoroughly explain your current symptoms as well as how things have progressed. If you have been regularly taking your temperature and it has been steadily increasing, this information should be provided to your doctor. You should also include information on any and all medications that you have taken through the duration of your illness and what impact, if any, they had on your symptoms.
Any illness that seems to be an emergency should be treated as quickly as possible. This may require a visit to an emergency room, urgent care facility, a walk-in clinic or with a different doctor than usual. Since of an emergency may include, but are not limited to, an extremely high fever, uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea, signs of serious dehydration, an inability to breathe properly, or any other circumstance that suggests an immediate risk to life, limb or vision is present.
Non-emergency Medical Services
Many health care systems provide more than one way to work with a medical professional. Aside from a standard office visit, telemedicine has increased in popularity and availability. Telemedicine involves communicating with a health care professional remotely. You may be able to speak with a doctor over the phone or online to get the care you need. This can be especially helpful for easy to identify, where there is a known standard of care, or highly contagious illnesses when avoiding public contact is wise. The professionals you can reach through a telemedicine appointment can recommend treatment options and write prescriptions, if necessary, providing range of care all without you having to leave the comfort of your own home.
If you are uncomfortable with the idea of telemedicine, or if certain symptoms require a more hands-on approach, A regular health care facility, urgent care or walk-in clinic may be more appropriate. They will be able to perform any tests necessary, and observe and interact with you in-person, to help determine what course of treatment is best. In situations where a medical test will be necessary, you will need to go to an appropriate facility for care as these options are generally not available with telemedicine.
After Your Doctor’s Visit
Once you have received treatment recommendations from you physician, it is important to follow all instructions exactly as they were given. This is especially true when it comes to proper dosing of a prescription medication. If you are provided with antibiotics, be sure to take them exactly as instructed for as long as you were told to take them. Many people feel they can stop taking antibiotics once they feel better, but it is important to take all of them exactly as prescribed. Just because your symptoms have improved does not mean that you are no longer ill. Failure to take antibiotics as prescribed may result in the infection returning and may be more difficult to treat later.
Even if you are not required to finish the entirety of your prescription, make sure any remaining is disposed of properly. It is critical you do not provide these medications to anyone else, even a family member who contracts the same illness. Prescriptions are for the patient they were written for and no one else. Additionally, it can potentially lead to dangerous interactions of side effects for the person to which it was not prescribed. If a family member needs medical attention for the illness, they will need to see a physician to ensure proper care.
If at any point during your treatment you feel uncertain about what to do, contact your physician for advice. They will be able to tell you if it is or is not safe to make any changes to the treatment plan. Do not add or remove any medications, prescription or OTC, or supplements without contacting a medical professional to determine if there is any risk.