Coughing is a normal bodily function. People cough for many reasons. Sometimes, coughing is a continuous function that can start to interrupt your daily life. A persistent cough can certainly be annoying, however, it can also be a sign of an underlying condition, sometimes a serious one. Here we outline the 3 most common reasons for a cough and when it becomes serious enough to seek medical attention.
Although respiratory tract infection sounds like a scary term, it just refers to things like the common cold and the flu, or any other bacteria or viruses that irritate the respiratory tract. The actual cause of cough in this instance comes from the build-up of mucous in the chest and throat, which the body then expels with coughing. This type of cough normally clears up on its own, but if it doesn’t within two to three weeks, you may need antibiotics to help clear your respiratory tract infection completely.
Some medicines can cause coughing as a side effect. Although this is generally rare, it can occur in angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE) inhibitors, such as Zestril or Vasotec. This kind of cough is harmless, but if it becomes excessive, you should talk to your doctor and discuss a switch in your medications to eliminate it.
Medical conditions, both temporary and permanent, can cause coughing. Asthma is one that involves persistent coughs and wheezing, normally identified in childhood, though it can become better in adulthood and be treated with inhalers and medications. Damage done to the vocal cords can also create irritation in the throat that leads to a cough, and a person who smokes will often develop a cough from irritation as well. Avoiding putting a strain on the voice and quitting smoking can help these types of coughs. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) develops when stomach acid flows back up the throat, also causing irritation and coughing; this can be treated with medications.
Coughing can be a sign of a much more serious medical condition, too, like pulmonary embolism or heart failure. If a person experiences a cough besides symptoms associated with these conditions, such as chest pain, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath, treatment should be sought immediately.
A good rule of thumb is to wait two weeks before seeking medical treatment for a cough, as long as no other serious symptoms are present. A cough that lasts two weeks without improving may indicate an underlying condition that should be assessed sooner than later. However, a cough that is accompanied by fever, headaches, chest pain, drowsiness, and/or confusion, or is causing you to cough up blood or have trouble breathing, should be treated immediately.
In the meantime, you can soothe your cough by drinking plenty of water, sleeping with your head elevated, and avoiding extra irritants like dust.
If you need help recovering from a cough, you can get in touch with us here at WellCare Urgent Care. We serve the residents of Grand Rapids, Cascade, East Grand Rapids, Rockford, and all surrounding areas.