Many of us will fight through a cough, and choose to go to work even though thereâs an annoying itch in the back of our throats. But, when does a cough become a serious issueâand how do we address it? Jaremy James, DO, internal medicine physician at Methodist Health Family Care on the Methodist Mansfield Medical Center campus, says a physician will consider when a cough started, how long it has been going on, the amount of mucus building up, and if it is progressively getting worse. The answers to those questions will create the treatment plan for the patient.
Coughing is simply a symptom; it isnât the cause of something. More often than not, a cough lets you know your body is working to get rid of something thatâs in excess in your system. It can be related to anything from a common cold to pneumonia.
If a cough goes away after a few days with the help of some throat lozenges and some over-the-counter medicine, thereâs probably no need to contact a physician. The ones you should worry about keep you up at night because youâre constantly coughing and dealing with shortness of breath, or producing heavy amounts of mucus.
In fact, looking at the color of mucus can help a doctor pinpoint what your cough is trying to tell you. âA lot of people look funny at us when we say that,â Dr. James says. âBut it kind of guides us, and tells us if this more an allergy, or if itâs something stronger.â
Clear mucus is probably related to an allergy, or the buildup of some nasal drainage. In those cases, it may not be something to worry about. A dark color or the presence of blood means itâs more likely related to something serious.
And of course, you should come in if your cold just wonât go away after a few days, even if youâre taking medicine. âWhen you come in, weâll decide if itâs something viral or bacterial, and if we need to go with supportive care, or antibiotics,â Dr. James says.
Patients shouldnât plan on getting antibiotics right away after taking a trip to see his or her doctor. A majority of coughs are related to viral infections, meaning antibiotics arenât necessary. With that said, a visit with your primary care physician will help you better understand what you really do need to get better.
In some cases, you donât want to completely get rid of your cough while fighting an infection. Dr. James says he encourages many of his patients to maintain coughs to clear some of the gunk out of their system, instead of letting it sit and fester before theyâre completely healed.
For those of us who want to prevent a cough coming on, make sure to wash your hands often and to disinfect your surroundings. And remember, itâs always okay to ask your family and friends who do have a cough to cover their mouths with their elbows instead of their hands.
Got a cough that wonât stop, see one of our doctors at Methodist Urgent Care, with locations in Dallas and Mansfield?