How to Tell If Your Cough Is More Than a Cough


How to Tell If Your Cough Is More Than a Cough

You likely develop a cough during allergy season or when you get sick. Many people have coughs that flare when they eat cold food or breathe impure air. Others cough all the time for seemingly unknown reasons. Which of these coughs is dangerous? How do you know when a cough is just a cough – and when it is something more serious?

Sometimes a cough is just a cough, and sometimes it is a symptom of a serious, life-threatening disease. This guide will help you determine when to go to urgent care for a cough, and when to pop a cough drop and get on with your day.

How to Tell If Your Cough Is More Than a Cough

How Long Has the Cough Occurred?

When it comes to duration, there are three types of cough: acute, subacute and chronic.

An acute cough lasts no longer than about three weeks

, meaning at the end of about 21 days, you shouldn’t have any remnants of cough remaining. Usually, acute coughs aren’t serious; they are the result of a passing virus or allergy, and they shouldn’t have any long-term effects.

A subacute cough persists for three to eight weeks

, and it can be a sign of something sinister. Most often, subacute coughs are caused by acute respiratory infections that the body is effectively fighting. You can seek medical help to ease your symptoms and possibly to obtain antibiotics. A subacute cough accompanied by wheezing or crackles might be a sign of whooping cough, which requires immediate attention, especially if there are children in your home.

A chronic cough endures for more than eight weeks

. Any time you experience any symptom for such an extended period of time, you should consult a medical professional. A chronic cough could be caused by dozens of live-threatening conditions, from asthma to lung cancer, so you should act fast to schedule an appointment with your health provider of choice.

Is It Dry or Wet?

When it comes to sensation, you might experience two types of coughs: dry and wet.

How to Tell If Your Cough Is More Than a Cough

A dry cough sounds more like hacking and often hurts your throat or chest. It is also called a non-productive cough because it fails to produce sputum, or mucus, which might be constricting your airways. Most often, a dry cough is caused by irritation, like allergies or impure air. Cough suppressants are best for acute or subacute dry coughs. However, if your dry cough is chronic, there is likely something terrible affecting your breathing passages, and you should seek a professional diagnosis.

A wet cough might feel heavier and thicker, and it rarely hurts

. This cough is wet because of an overabundance of mucus in your airways caused by infection. You should inspect the color of the sputum you produce with your wet cough; healthy mucus is clear, so if you find white, yellow or green mucus, you have an infection that needs medical treatment. Yellow and green sputum usually can be managed with over-the-counter medications, but thick, white mucus is a sign that you need professional medical help.

Do You Have Any of These Conditions?

Coughs are rarely just coughs when you have other medical conditions affecting your health. These conditions, in particular, might have adverse effects on your respiratory system. Left untreated, coughs caused by the following conditions can develop into alarming problems, so you should see if you can identify any underlying issues on this list:

  • Smoking

    . Whether it is tobacco or something else, smoke seriously irritates the airways. At best, you could have asthma or allergies; at worse, you could be developing COPD, emphysema or cancer.

  • Gastrointestinal issues

    . It’s hard to believe that your upset tummy might affect your lungs, but people with acid reflux often suffer from chronic cough. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, sees stomach acid sloshing into your airways, causing damage. The sooner you manage GERD, the better; leaving it untreated could result in a dissolved esophagus and air passage as well as cancer.

  • Allergies

    . If you know you are susceptible to ragweed, grass and other pollens, your cough is likely due to severe allergies. You should consider staying indoors during high-pollen days or talking to your doctor about prescription allergy medication.

  • Asthma

    . When properly treated, asthma sufferers can live full, active lives. However, if you are experiencing chronic coughing despite your asthma medication, it might be time to talk to a doctor about altering your treatment plan.

  • Various medications

    . There are a handful of prescription and non-prescription medications that have coughing as a side-effect. ACE inhibitors, used to treat high blood pressure, are notorious for causing chronic cough. Depending on the severity of your cough, you might need a completely new medication plan to manage your condition and avoid causing cough.


  Disclaimer: All content on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this website and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult with your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.