A cough is usually not something to be overly concerned about. It’s annoying, but the common kind that accompanies a bout of cold or flu typically goes away after the viral infection is gone. With some over-the-counter cough syrup, you can get relief from your cough and cold symptoms while waiting for the virus to leave your body.
There are times, however, when a cough is more than just the average cough. How can you tell the difference?
Interpreting Your Cough
A cough is merely a symptom, so to treat it, you need to treat the cause. What if it’s stemming from something other than the common cold or flu? You’ll then be dealing with a cough that won’t go away.
It’s time to see a doctor when your cough has lingered for more than a couple of weeks. If you also have just one or two very specific symptoms, then it’s probably more than a cold as well. For instance, if you have a very sore throat accompanying your cough, then it might be a case of strep throat.
You should get a proper diagnosis for your cough, but to give you an idea when to go to a doctor, let the following descriptions guide you.
See a doctor when:
- You also experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
- You’re expectorating yellow or green mucus.
- You’re feverish, with a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- You seem to be getting weaker as your cough also worsens.
- You’re inexplicably losing weight.
- You’re experiencing night sweats.
- You’re coughing up blood or mucus tinged with blood.
What are the possible culprits when you suffer from a lingering cough or if you seem to have already developed a chronic cough?
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Post-nasal drip
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Congestive heart failure
- Lung cancer
Chronic coughing may also stem from a smoking habit as well as from taking certain medications, such as beta blockers or ACE inhibitors.
Interpreting Your Child’s Cough
A cough among children is a distinct worry. First, it’s heartbreaking to see little ones in poor health. Hearing them wracked with coughs is definitely very disquieting.
It may be difficult to see your child sick with a cough, but if it’s clearly just from a cold, then you can just nurse it, make sure your little one is as comfortable as possible, and just wait out the virus.
Unfortunately, a child’s cough could also be caused by other illnesses. What are the common coughs children may suffer from and how do you distinguish one from the other?
- Dry cough – There’s very little or no mucus. It is usually brought on by a viral respiratory infection (cold or flu).
- Productive cough – A wet, chesty cough is usually caused by phlegm, which often indicates a bacterial infection. If it lingers, it could be a more serious chest infection.
- Croup cough – This is a hoarse cough that sounds like a raspy bark. Croup is a cold weather virus that causes swelling around the vocal cords. Most cases are mild, but if it doesn’t seem to be improving, let your doctor know.
- Whooping cough – Your child’s vaccine records would call it pertussis. It’s a serious bacterial infection that causes coughing fits that end with a whooping sound. This is highly contagious, so make sure you’re also vaccinated against it.
- Wheezing cough – When your child’s cough is accompanied by wheezing, it’s either a viral infection or asthma. Wheezing may also happen if a foreign object is blocking the lower airway.
- Cough with vomiting – If not persistent, vomiting isn’t really a great worry unless it’s causing dehydration.
It’s never a good idea to just ignore a cough. You want it gone as soon as possible. Even when it’s your run-of-the-mill cough from the common cold, it’s still a hassle, interfering with your daily activities and your sleep.
Of course, there are coughs that do warrant your worry. You want to take the right measures to properly address the condition. For this reason, it’s important to have an idea which kind of cough you might have.