When You Should See Your Doctor About Your Cough

Dec 13, 2023
When You Should See Your Doctor About Your Cough
You can usually consider a cough a good thing when you have a cold or the flu. It may not be fun, but it’s your body’s way of clearing your airways and protecting your lungs. Sometimes, though, a cough points to a different medical problem. 

No one enjoys having a cough. However, this spontaneous reflex has a very important job — it clears your body of foreign invaders and irritants in your throat and airway, like germs, mucus, or dust. So as unpleasant as that cough may seem, it’s working to protect your body.

However, that doesn’t mean all coughs are good. There are times when they warrant a trip to the doctor. 

The Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates team can help get to the bottom of the most challenging symptoms, including a questionable cough. 

Here are a few things to know about coughs and when to see an expert.

Acute versus chronic coughs

A cough may seem like just a cough, but it’s not always as simple as that.

First, a cough is either acute or chronic. An acute cough typically clears up within a few weeks and is often triggered by an infection, allergens, or environmental irritants. However, some acute coughs can linger for 3-8 weeks.

When a cough doesn’t clear up after eight weeks, it becomes chronic. These coughs may occur because of underlying conditions, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Environmental triggers, like hay fever
  • Chronic sinusitis and postnasal drip
  • Bacterial and viral upper respiratory infections
  • Chronic respiratory conditions, like asthma, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Certain medications
  • Lung cancer

Coughs can also be productive and nonproductive. When productive — or wet — it brings up phlegm or mucus. As you might suspect, a nonproductive — or dry — cough does not.

When to see a doctor for your cough

Generally speaking, if your cough responds to self-care measures and improves within a few weeks, you can usually skip a trip to the doctor. However, both acute and chronic coughs sometimes require medical attention, so it’s crucial to watch your symptoms. 

In most cases, you should see an expert if your cough lasts longer than three weeks. You should also schedule an appointment if your cough is among additional symptoms, such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Green or yellowish mucus
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Ankle swelling
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue

You should also seek emergency care if your cough involves choking, vomiting, bloody or pinkish phlegm, chest pain, or problems breathing or swallowing.

If your cough is causing issues or interfering with daily life, don’t wait to see a doctor. 

Diagnosing and treating a cough

At the end of the day, if you’re wondering if your cough needs medical attention, it’s probably wise to schedule an appointment. Our team can help identify potential causes so you can feel your best again.

During your visit, we look for the source of your cough, like smoking, exposure to irritants, asthma, and allergies. We could also perform bloodwork, lung function tests, X-rays, or CT scans to gain a clear picture of your health.

Once we diagnose your cough, we can outline the most effective course of treatment to ease your symptoms. For instance, if you have asthma or allergies, we target these conditions with medications, allergy shots, inhalers, or avoiding your triggers.

Do you have a problem cough? Call or book online to schedule a visit at Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates in Tampa or Brandon, Florida, today.