Sofie Wise

Mark Spera

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About Author — Mark grew up in a family of healthcare providers and has always been fascinated by preventative medicine, infectious diseases and the intersection of big data and healthcare.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog.

Having a cough can be absolutely maddening, from the constant hacking to the disgusting fluids you may be producing. A tickle in the throat, a cold, or a respiratory tract infection – a cough can be a common symptom of many different types of illnesses. Coughing is an automatic reflex which helps the body to remove potentially harmful materials keeping your airways clear. While it can certainly be annoying, coughing does serve an important purpose in overall health. A mild cough is usually no big deal, but when a cough is more persistent, how do you know when it’s become more serious and is time to see a doctor?

Types of Coughs

There are two main types of coughs – acute and chronic. Acute coughs usually begin suddenly and go away within 3 weeks. They are often caused by something such as a cold, flu, or acute bronchitis and most often go away with a little TLC.

In contrast, chronic coughs usually last much longer. In fact, the Mayo Clinic defines a chronic cough as one that lasts 8 weeks or longer in adults. A chronic cough is not just annoying, it can start to impact other parts of your life as well. It may even wake you from sleep several times during the night leaving you exhausted for the next day. Severe cases of chronic cough have been known to cause gagging, vomiting, and even rib fractures. A chronic cough can be caused by long-term conditions such as asthma, allergies, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), and chronic bronchitis.

The treatment for a cough will vary depending on the cause, but increased fluids, using a humidifier, taking honey, using cough drops, and over-the-counter cough medications are common treatments for a cough.

When to See a Doctor for a Cough

While coughs are certainly annoying, they tend to go away on their own in time. So, how do you know when it’s time to put down the cough medicine and call a doctor? If you experience any of the following symptoms, call a doctor right away:

● A cough that doesn’t get better within 3 weeks
● Cough produces a thick or colored phlegm
● Cough produces blood
● Cough is accompanied by a fever
● Difficulty breathing
● Shortness of breath
● Wheezing
● Trouble sleeping

The doctors at PlushCare will be more than happy to speak with you at your convenience and without a long wait. Plus, you can speak with them right from the comfort of your own home or on your lunch break at work on any phone, tablet, or computer.

Book an appointment with a PlushCare doctor now.


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