Coughs:  When to see a doctor

cold & flu:when to see a doctor

Coughs: When to see a doctor

 Coughing is the body’s way of trying to clear out the lungs and throat. Despite being irritating, it can be helpful and even necessary to help keep the airways open, and get rid of harmful irritants..1

Common causes of a cough include:2

  • The common cold
  • The flu
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Sinusitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Cigarette smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke
  • Air pollutants
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (also called acid reflux)
  • Certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors, used to treat high blood pressure

In most cases, a cough will go away in 2 to 3 weeks.1,2 Drinking lots of fluids, using a vaporizer to keep the air moist, or taking cough drops or over-the-counter cough/cold medications to ease a sore, scratchy throat can all help to ease your cough.2

In some cases however, a cough that won’t go away can be a sign of a more serious condition.2 In addition, there are also some key warning signs to watch out for that may need medical attention.

Cough warning signs

Sometimes a cough can be a sign of a more serious condition. Some warning signs that may need medical attention include, but are not limited to:2

  • Difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, or swelling of the throat or face
  • Sudden start of a violent cough
  • Cough in an infant under 3 months
  • Coughing up blood or bloody sputum (includes matter such as mucus, phlegm, saliva and foreign substances)
  • A high-pitched wheezing when you breathe in
  • Weight loss or night sweats
  • Coughing up thick or excessive yellow-green mucus (a sign of bacterial infection)
  • A cough that does not improve after 10 to 14 days.
If you do seek medical attention for a cough, treatment will depend on your symptoms, how severe they are, and what is causing the cough. In most cases, the healthcare provider will ask a series of questions in order to diagnose the cough’s cause and provide the right treatment to help you feel better and kick that cough.

1. UK NHS Choices. Cough. Available at: Accessed September 2010.
2. Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Entry accessed: Cough. Available at: Accessed September 2010.