Is Your Cough Worth Seeing The Doctor About?

Coughs can sound awful — and be awfully annoying. But there are benefits to coughing: Your body uses it to keep your lungs clean. Coughing clears particles, irritants and mucus from your airways — the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs — which may help prevent infections.

Coughs are usually a temporary problem. They may be triggered by allergens or by something else you breathe in. Viruses, such as a cold or the flu, may also be to blame.

Caring for a cough.

Try these tips the next time you need some relief:

  • Suck on cough drops or hard candy to help ease a dry, tickling cough. Never give cough drops or hard candies to young children because of the risk of choking.
  • Take a steamy shower — or turn on a humidifier. The moisture may help ease coughs.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help thin mucus in the throat. Warm liquids, like broth or tea, are good choices.
  • Make a beeline to some honey. Just a teaspoon may help loosen a cough. Don’t give honey to babies younger than 1 year old.
  • Don’t smoke or let others smoke around you — both may make your cough worse.

If a cough is causing a lot of discomfort or is keeping you up at night, you might try an over-the-counter cough medicine. Be sure to follow dosing instructions.*

When to see a doctor.

Coughs that come on suddenly often clear up on their own in 3 weeks or less. But you may need to see a doctor if your cough persists or if you have other symptoms such as:

  • Coughing up thick, discolored or bloody mucus.
  • Fever higher than 100̊ F.
  • Heartburn.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Swelling in your legs and difficulty breathing, especially when lying flat.
  • Unintentional weight loss or night sweats.
  • Wheezing or a whistling breathing.

Note: Any time an infant younger than 3 months has a cough, talk with your doctor.