How to Know when to See a Doctor About Your Cough

Three Methods:Recognizing Serious Cough SymptomsLooking for Chronic Coughing DisordersRecognizing Serious Childhood Conditions

Coughs are quite common and minor coughs can be treated at home. However, there are serious cough symptoms that signify medical issues or cough side effects that should be treated by your doctor.[1] If you are unsure if your cough is serious enough, there are ways to know if you need to see a doctor about your cough.

Method 1
Recognizing Serious Cough Symptoms

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    Look for blood streaked phlegm. When you suffer from a wet, productive cough, you produce phlegm. Phlegm is produced when your lungs are inflamed or if you have an infection. When you have a productive cough, you need to keep a close eye on what your phlegm looks like. This can give you a clue that your cough is more serious. Look for any red streaks in your phlegm. This indicates that there is blood in your phlegm. If you notice blood, go see your doctor.
    • When you are sick, cough out your phlegm into a tissue or napkin so you can examine it.[2]
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    Check for different colored phlegm. Another indication of a serious condition that needs to be treated is the color of your phlegm. If your phlegm is clear, it is considered normal. You may cough up green, yellow, or white phlegm. If you experience this, call your doctor for a visit.
    • This change of color means you may have an underlying infection that may cause problems.[3]
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    Notice difficulty breathing. Breathing problems go hand in hand with serious coughs, since both deal with the lungs. If you have any difficulty breathing because you can't stop coughing or can't take a deep breath after you cough, you should call your doctor. Also look for bluish or grey colored lips and fingertips, which show a lack of oxygen.
    • Wheezing may also occur when you find it hard to breath.
    • If you are suddenly unable to breath in, call emergency services immediately.[4]
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    Check for a high fever. There are times when your cough is accompanied by a fever. A low grade fever below 100 degrees Fahrenheit is common. If your low grade fever lasts for over a week, however, you should see a doctor. If you have a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you should also see your doctor.
    • This indicates that you have a serious underlying infection or virus that needs treating.[5]
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    Look for physical signs of a serious cough. There are some physical symptoms that may indicate that your cough is serious. If you notice these symptoms along with a persistent cough, you need to see your doctor to look for a more serious condition. These symptoms include:
    • Noticeable weight loss
    • Waking up with night sweats
    • Dizziness
    • Intense chest, abdomen, or rib pain[6]
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    Notice if your cough is persistent. Sometimes a cough can start be so persistent that is can start affecting your everyday life. This is when your cough causes you to lose sleep or causes interruption in your work, school, or home life. A cough is also considered persistent if it lasts up to a week with no change, despite home treatments.[7]
    • If this happens, contact your doctor so you can diagnose your symptoms. Your doctor may be able to give you a stronger cough suppressant or help treat any underlying cause of your cough.
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    Consider home remedies. If you experience a less severe cough or have less severe cough symptoms than those described, you may be able to treat your cough at home before you call your a doctor. These home remedies help treat underlying causes of coughs, such as colds or common respiratory disorders, as long as you don't have any serious symptoms. However, if these home remedies do not work after five to seven days, you should see your doctor immediately. Common home remedies include:
    • Rest
    • Drinking lots of fluids, preferably water
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as pain relievers, cough suppressants, decongestants, expectorants, and antihistamines

Method 2
Looking for Chronic Coughing Disorders

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    Recognize post-nasal drip. A common condition that can cause chronic coughing is post-nasal drip. This is when there is increased mucus in your nose or sinuses due to allergies or infections. This mucus drips down the back of your throat and irritates your throat, which causes you to cough reflex.
    • If you think this may be the cause of your cough, talk to your doctor to get treatment for the allergies or the infection.[8]
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    Look for an upper respiratory infection (URI). Upper respiratory infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. These cause irritations to your throat and lungs, which cause you to cough. These will also produce colored phlegm, which illustrates the underlying cause.
    • If you notice increased irritation in your throat and lungs in addition to your cough, see your doctor.[9]
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    Notice a cough caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD, also known as acid reflux or hyperacidity, is a chronic case of heartburn where stomach acid flows back into your esophagus. This causes irritation to this area, which can make you have a chronic dry cough.[10] Look for symptoms of GERD, such as a burning sensation in your chest that can spread along your throat, along with your cough.[11]
    • If you notice these symptoms along with your cough, see your doctor about treating the GERD. This will help reduce your cough as well.
    • Coughing can make your GERD worse, so treat your GERD as soon as you can to help make you feel better.[12]
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    Check for other conditions that cause chronic coughs. There are a few other conditions that may cause a chronic cough. These conditions have coughing a major symptoms, but typically occur because of other medical conditions. If you fall into any of these categories, call your doctor if you have a persistent cough.These conditions include:
    • Chronic bronchitis, an inflammation of the tubes in the lungs, which is most commonly caused by smoking
    • Congestive heart failure (CHF) caused by underlying heart problems that produces a dry, deep, persistent cough
    • The inhalation of a foreign object or chemical[13]

Method 3
Recognizing Serious Childhood Conditions

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    Look for signs of whooping cough. Whooping cough is a serious bacterial childhood coughing condition that is becoming more common. If you child has this condition, you child will have fits of uncontrolled, violent coughs that makes it very hard for your child to breathe. Your child will also follow the fits of coughing with a huge deep breath in, which sounds like a whoop.
    • Your child may also expel thick phlegm or turn blue from lack of oxygen.
    • If you notice these symptoms in your child, get to the doctor immediately. It is especially important if you notice these signs in babies, as it is much more harmful to younger children.
    • Early treatment is extremely important because whooping cough is highly contagious.[14]
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    Recognize croup. Croup is a viral infection that typically affects children six months to three years of age. In severe cases of croup, your child will make a loud squeaking noise when he or she breaths in, which is more common at night. Your child will also have a fever and a runny nose. If you notice these symptoms, call your child's doctor immediately.
    • When croup first starts, it will resemble the symptoms of a cold. However, the coughing will get worse and the other symptoms will persist.[15]
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    Determine if your child has bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis is a viral infection that typically affects children two years and younger, though children under six months are more likely to be affected. Check to see if you child has a strong cough and makes a wheezing or whistling sound as he or she exhales. You child will also have a runny nose and fever. If you notice these symptoms in your child, call your child's doctor to get treatment.
    • This will start similar to the common cold, but the cough will get worse and your child will have difficulty breathing.[16]

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Categories: Finding a Medical Specialist