January 18, 2023
When to See a Doctor for a Cough
A cough is a common symptom of acute illnesses such as the common cold and flu. Chronic conditions like asthma and sleep apnea can also cause it. However, there may be instances where a cough is associated with more severe conditions that require immediate medical attention, such as pulmonary embolism.
Knowing when to see a doctor for a cough is key to catching certain illnesses and diseases early on so you can receive treatment. Here are signs that your cough is severe and that it’s time to make an appointment with Healthcare Associates of Texas.
What Are the Different Types of Cough?
A cough can be acute or chronic and productive or non-productive.
An acute cough lasts under three weeks, while a subacute cough lasts between three and eight weeks, reports the National Library of Medicine (NLM). A chronic cough lasts eight weeks or longer in adults and four weeks or longer in children.
A productive cough is also known as a wet cough. These types of coughs sound wet and will bring up phlegm or mucus. A non-productive cough is also known as a dry cough, as these coughs do not bring up phlegm or mucus.
Common Causes of a Cough
According to the NLM, the most common causes of acute cough in adults are the common cold and bronchitis. Bronchitis occurs when the lining of the airways to and from your lungs becomes inflamed. If you have bronchitis, your cough may be accompanied by fever, chills, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
An acute cough may also be caused by the following:
- Smoke, dust, and other environmental irritants
- Pet dander, pollen, and other allergens
- Flu, common cold, sinusitis, and other upper respiratory tract infections
- Pneumonia, bronchitis, and other lower respiratory infections
- Worsening of asthma
- Congestive heart failure
- Pulmonary embolism
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the root cause of up to 40% of chronic coughs, reports the NLM. GERD occurs when stomach acid (also known as acid reflux) flows back up into your esophagus to cause a burning sensation and/or chest pain. If GERD causes your cough, you may experience difficulty swallowing, chest discomfort, and new asthma.
A chronic cough may also be caused by the following:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other chronic respiratory conditions
- Pollen, dust, and other environmental triggers
- Sleep apnea
- Certain medications, including ACE inhibitors and omeprazole (a drug used to treat GERD)
- Interstitial lung diseases — a group of disorders that cause scarring of lung tissue
- Lung cancer
When to Go to the Doctor for a Cough
Make an appointment with your primary care doctor if your cough lingers for three weeks or longer or if it is accompanied by symptoms that could indicate it is part of a more severe illness. These symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Mucus that is thick and green or yellow
- Unexplained weight loss
Your doctor can perform an exam and talk to you in more detail about your symptoms. Your doctor may also ask several questions about your cough, such as when it started, whether it’s painful, and whether anyone else in your family is coughing.
Seek emergency medical care right away if any of the following symptoms accompany your cough:
- Difficulty breathing
- High fever
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
Some of the above symptoms can indicate pulmonary embolism — a blood clot that blocks blood flow to an artery in the lung. A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Signs Your Cough Is Getting Better
Acute coughs lasting under three weeks will gradually disappear before the three-week mark. After your illness or symptoms peak, your coughs will become less frequent and less severe until they are completely gone.
Here are other signs your cough is getting better:
- Your mucus is becoming thinner and is coming out less frequently.
- Your coughing fits are becoming shorter.
- You no longer feel the need to take cough and cold medicines.
- Your other symptoms have gone away, such as fever and sore throat.
Chronic coughs may take longer to get better, especially since underlying chronic conditions like asthma and COPD may cause them. In those instances, your cough may not go away until you address or treat the underlying condition. Work closely with your doctor to manage or treat the root cause of your chronic cough so it can finally go away.
What Are the Best Home Remedies for a Cough?
A mild to moderate cough can usually be treated using one or more home remedies. Below are common at-home cough treatments.
Herbal teas and broths can help thin the mucus in your airways. They can also reduce irritation and soreness, especially if you have a sore throat. Try adding lemon and honey to your tea, as these foods have healing properties that could help you feel better more quickly.
Adding moisture to your home or bedroom air can help soothe your throat, especially if you have a dry cough. Run a humidifier at night while you sleep, or take a shower for long enough to produce steam.
Avoid Environmental Irritants and Triggers
Reduce your exposure to irritants like mold, pollen, or pet dander that you know are causing your cough. Stay indoors when pollen counts are high, vacuum carpets and furniture regularly to remove pet dander, and avoid secondhand smoke.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicines
Cough drops, throat lozenges, and cough medicines can all be purchased from your local pharmacy. These OTC medicines can often help you find relief from your cough and other common cold and flu symptoms.
What Are Other Effective Treatments for a Cough?
If home remedies and OTC medicines do not relieve your cough, ask your doctor about other treatments and recommendations. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe stronger or different medications that can effectively reduce your cough.
These treatments may include:
- Antibiotics for coughs caused by bacterial infections
- Another type of blood pressure medication for coughs caused by ACE inhibitors
Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor whenever you become worried about your cough. Your doctor can advise you about the next best steps and may recommend you come in for a checkup if necessary.
Healthcare Associates of Texas offers a wide range of healthcare services, including primary care to help you identify the root cause of your cough. Request an appointment today to learn more about our many healthcare services.
Ready to become your healthiest self?
Get tips delivered to your e-mail inbox every month. Let’s get happier and healthier together!