Having a cough is something that everyone will experience at some point. Most of the time, a mild cough will quickly resolve on its own.
But when a cough is constant and lasts for over three days, though, it could be a sign that you’re dealing with more than just a common cold.
Aside from taking cough medicine, how do you get rid of a cough that lingers? At what point should you stop trying to treat it at home and see a doctor? Are some coughs enough to warrant a trip to urgent care or the ER? Yes!
For the answers to these questions and more, keep reading.
Types of Lingering Coughs
All coughs aren’t equal—the type you have is directly related to what’s causing it.
Whether you’re choking on phlegm, have a dry and scratchy throat, or are seeing spots of blood, the way you’re coughing provides valuable information about how to treat it.
Here are three of the most common types of coughs we see at City Health UrgentCare, and what they could be saying about your health.
Dry coughs don’t come with phlegm, but they often come with scratchy, sore, and irritated throats.
Common causes of a dry cough include:
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Environmental allergies
- Low humidity in the air
- Viral infection
- Collapsed lung
Right now, the most important thing to be concerned about if you have a dry cough is a potential COVID-19 infection. CityHealth is pleased to offer fast, accurate and free COVID-19 testing and can return your results in just 15 minutes. Make sure to self isolate and get tested immediately if you suspect COVID.
Productive coughs bring up mucus and phlegm.
These coughs are often accompanied by sinus congestion or a post-nasal drip. Reasons for a productive cough can include:
- Chronic allergies
- Bacterial or viral infection (influenza, bronchitis, etc.)
If your phlegm is yellow or green, it’s a sign of infection and calls for a doctor’s visit.
Coughing up Blood
Coughing up blood is sometimes as severe as it sounds, but it can also be the result of something benign.
The thing to watch out for in deciding how to treat it is the amount and appearance of the blood.
If you’re only seeing small spots or streaks, either with a dry or productive cough, it’s likely from irritation or a nosebleed.
If you notice larger amounts of blood or darker globs (especially if it reaches a teaspoon or more in volume) it could be an indicator of bronchitis, pneumonia, a pulmonary blood clot, or even lung cancer.
Treating a Cough at Home
Most coughs that stem from a mild infection or irritation and can be treated at home, and there are several remedies you can try.
Try Tea & Honey
Before reaching into your medicine cabinet, start by drinking a cup of hot tea or broth to soothe your throat.
A teaspoon of honey, either swallowed by itself or added to a cup of hot tea can also calm the irritation. Avoid giving honey or hot liquids to small children, though.
Check your Air Quality
If the air in your home is dry, it could be contributing to your cough and throat irritation. To fix this, try to increase the moisture level in your home.
Run a humidifier or diffuse an essential oil like eucalyptus in the sick person’s room. If you don’t have a humidifier, taking a steamy shower or boiling water on the stove can also make a difference.
Over the Counter Remedies
Using cough drops or a cough syrup like Robitussin can help as well, but be sure to only take them according to the instructions.
Remember that these medications will suppress your coughing but won’t treat any underlying illnesses.
If you seek medical advice later, make sure to tell your clinician what over the counter remedies you’ve been taking, and how often and how much. OTC medications can obscure your symptoms, so being honest with your healthcare professional will help them better determine the cause of your cough.
Take Care of Your Body
If your cough keeps you up at night, try sleeping with your head elevated. Sleep in a recliner or prop yourself up with extra pillows to keep phlegm from accumulating.
No matter what type of cough you have, drink extra fluids like water, juice, tea and clear broth, and avoid activities that irritate your lungs, like smoking.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
When your cough lingers or gets worse instead of better despite using the above remedies, it’s time to seek Urgent Care.
If your symptoms aren’t an emergency (you could wait 24 hours for treatment, but it would be miserable), visiting an urgent care center is the best course of action. Our medical teams are experienced in treating acute illnesses and can help you get test results and start treatment long before you could get an appointment with your general physician.
If you experience a lasting cough along with any of these symptoms, you should make sure to get tested for COVID-19:
- Fever and/or sore throat
- Breathing difficulty or shortness of breath
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Full-body aches
- Digestive symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting)
- Loss of smell or taste
Don’t let fears over the cost keep you from getting tested. Our urgent care centers are providing free COVID-19 tests for anyone who might be infected, regardless of whether you have health insurance. You should also get tested if you’ve been around someone with COVID-19 symptoms, even if you don’t have a cough.
When It’s an Emergency
If your cough is severe enough, you should head straight to the ER instead of urgent care. Signs that you need emergency treatment include:
- Coughing up a teaspoon (or more) of blood
- Excessive wheezing and difficulty breathing
- A fever over 102 deg. F
- Chills, shivering
- Feeling faint, dizzy, or confused
- Pale, gray, or blue lips and face
- Chest pain or pressure
A cough that reaches these levels signals a serious medical condition and warrants a call to 911. Notify them of all your symptoms when you call, especially if you think you may have COVID-19.
If Your Cough Lasts Over Three Days, Visit Your Local Urgent Care
When your cough is long-lasting, following these steps can help you treat the illness before it gets worse or you pass it along to others.
For non-emergency coughs that accompany other symptoms or that don’t respond to at-home remedies, visit an urgent care center near you for treatment. If you live in the Oakland or San Leandro areas, CityHealth is open every day from 9-5 and ready to help you get better.
If you’re unable or don’t feel comfortable visiting our office in person, you can schedule a virtual appointment for a telehealth consultation. Our medical team is standing by to help you feel like yourself again— without the wait.