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When Should You See Your Doctor For Cough?

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An occasional bout of coughing here and there probably means nothing. Coughing can occur for far too many reasons that are beyond the scope of this short article. It could be because of some dust you accidentally inhaled, the dry air in your room, or a sore throat.

Figuring out the cause of your mystery cough can be tricky. You’ll need to give a detailed history to your doctor and you might also need to get some tests done.

Coughing is temporarily treated with cough syrups and lozenges that can suppress the urge to cough; however, the ultimate cure of this increasingly irritating problem lies in the treatment of what’s causing it.

Types of Cough

All coughs are not the same. The nature of your cough can give a giant clue as to what could be causing it. Here is a list of some of the most common types of coughs you may experience:

#1: Cough with Mucous:

Coughs that come with mucous is known as the wet cough. These coughs are usually seen when you have a common cold or a case of the flu. They can also accompany a bacterial sore throat.

When you have a wet cough, look for other signs of an infection such as a congested, runny nose, fever and postnasal drip.

The mucous that comes with your cough can also be of different types. Sometimes the mucous is clear and transparent in colour; other times it is thick and greenish-yellow. Yellow mucous is often a sign of a bacterial infection.

The mucous in a wet cough can also sometimes have streaks of blood in it. Blood-streaked mucous can be an alarming sight but it isn’t always dangerous. Bloody mucous can occur when you have tuberculosis of the lungs, pneumonia, throat trauma, or just a very bad sore throat.

Thick, viscous mucous is also seen in people with an infection of the tubes of their lungs (bronchitis). Bronchitis is exceedingly common in people who smoke. If bronchitis persists, the cough can become chronic and lead to something called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD increases your risk of respiratory failure and needs urgent treatment.

#2: Cough without Mucous

Otherwise known as a dry cough, cough without mucous is also a common occurrence. This is usually unrelated to a bacterial infection or flu. Dry coughs are sometimes seen when you’re in the healing phase of a common cold or sore throat.

Other causes of a dry cough include a viral sore throat, inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis), sinusitis, asthma, allergies, acid reflux disease, and certain medications like the ACE inhibitors taken for heart and kidney conditions.

You may also experience a temporary dry cough when you’re exposed to environmental pollutants such as ash, smoke, dust and pollen.

#3: Paroxysmal cough

Paroxysmal coughing classically occurs in a condition called whooping cough or pertussis. This occurs when children have an infection called diphtheria. Whooping cough is often dangerous and can increase the risk of respiratory failure and infections of the lungs.

It is known as a paroxysmal cough because of the characteristic whooping nature of this type of cough.

The good news is pertussis can be completely prevented with a vaccination.

Other conditions that can mimic a paroxysmal type of cough include asthma, COPD, choking, and pneumonia.

#4: Barking cough

Barking cough is seen in children with a condition called croup. Croup occurs only in young infant and children, and it is caused by a viral infection. It usually gets better on its own. Simple measures such as increasing fluid intake, using humidifiers, and taking OTC painkillers can help.

In severe cases of croup, the child may require oxygen, steroid and adrenaline therapy.

When Should I See a Doctor For My Cough?

The big question is, when should you see a doctor.

If you’ve recently contracted a sore throat, common cold or a similar infection, chances are you won’t need to book an appointment with your doctor just for the cough. A dry, hacking, and sometimes a wet cough is a sign of the last stages of a sore throat before it gets better.

However, if you notice suspicious symptoms with your cough, you should see your doctor immediately. These include:

  • Blood in the sputum
  • High-grade fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Changes in your voice
  • Paroxysmal coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Enlarge lymph nodes

How is a Cough Treated?

The treatment of any cough lies in correcting the underlying problem.

If all you have is a sore throat, simple cough suppressants like a lozenge, throat spray or throat rinse can give you relief. You can also drink honey mixed in warm tea or milk, use humidifiers, do saltwater gargles or take OTC cough syrups to control the coughing.

If you happen to have a wet cough with sputum, it’s always a good idea to expel the sputum instead of controlling the cough. This could give you some relief by releasing some congestion.

Other causes of cough such as asthma or COPD need their specific treatments like bronchodilator inhalers, steroids and even oxygen sometimes.

If you have tuberculosis, a combination of anti-tuberculosis drugs will help you get rid of the cough and other problematic symptoms.

Patients with pneumonia or pertussis need antibiotics to cure their symptoms.

Takeaway

We know how irritating chronic coughs can be, especially if they are dry and hacking. Wet coughs can also be pretty annoying because of the constant need to expel the mucus and sputum. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should try to understand what could be causing them.

If it’s not an identifiable sore throat or common cold infection, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to find out the exact cause of the cough so that you can get appropriate treatment.

References:

  1. Types of Cough and What They Mean. WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/video/video-cough-types
  2. What Does MY Type of Cough Mean? Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/types-of-coughs

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