Irritants and mucus in your throat trigger the reflex that you know as a cough. Coughs clear your throat of everything from smoke to viruses, and the air from a cough travels through your throat at the rate of about 50 miles per hour.
It’s normal to cough every once in a while, or when you’re battling a minor illness, such as a cold. But a chronic cough could be a sign of something more serious.
Catherine Fuller, MD, an expert allergist and immunologist in West Los Angeles, California, assures you that most coughs aren’t serious and will clear on their own in a few days. But what about a cough that persists for weeks — or longer? Is it time to see a doctor? It might be.
Does your cough need medical care? Answer these questions to find out.
Is your cough wet or dry?
A dry cough that hasn’t cleared up within two weeks could be a sign of a coronavirus or other infection. If you don’t smoke and your cough persists, call Dr. Fuller.
Wet coughs may be your body’s attempt to clear mucus from your airways and throat. However, you should contact us if your wet cough is accompanied by:
- Thick, yellow or green phlegm
- Pink-tinged phlegm
Regardless whether your cough is wet or dry, see a doctor right away if you have trouble breathing or feel continually short of breath.
How long have you had your cough?
Coughs that don’t clear up on their own within a couple of weeks may be a sign of infection. Some possibilities include:
- Respiratory tract infection
- Lung cancer
- Parasitic infection
- Cystic fibrosis
- Lung abscess
Many of these conditions can also lead to coughing up blood if not treated.
Are you confused, unfocused, or sleepy?
If you feel like your brain is surrounded by fog and you can’t quite shake off the drowsy feeling all day, your cough could be the sign of a serious condition that needs treatment, such as:
- Medication side effect
- Drug overdose
- Aspirin poisoning
- Sleep apnea
- Low blood sugar
- Congestive heart failure
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
- Middle-ear infection
Whenever you feel woozy or dizzy — whether accompanied by a cough or not — see a doctor right away.
Do you have other symptoms?
Chronic coughs accompanied by other symptoms should be investigated, as they could be a sign of a serious illness. Associations might include:
- Shortness of breath: heart failure or pulmonary embolism
- Sharp pain in chest: collapsed lung
- Fever: infection
- Wheezing: asthma
In some instances, a chronic cough can be caused by medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
Seek medical attention right away if your cough is accompanied by:
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Trouble breathing
Your doctor will examine your throat and also order tests to pinpoint the cause of your cough. Tests may include an X-ray, allergy tests, or mucus analysis.
Has your cough persisted for more than two weeks, or is it accompanied by other symptoms? Find out what’s causing it so you can get relief. Call the team at Catherine Fuller, MD, today at 310-828-7978 or request an appointment online.