Considering A Doctor’s Appointment For Help Managing A Cough?
“Cough is one of the most common reasons why people come to see us. Most coughs are not serious and are caused by a virus, but some coughs may be be caused by a bacteria and may require an antibiotic. It can be difficult for people to determine whether a cough is serious or not- this is where we come in. If your cough lingers for a long time after a cold, is accompanied by a fever or shortness of breath, you need to make an appointment to come in and see us in the clinic”.
What is a cough?
A cough is a reflex, the purpose of which is to keep your lungs and airways clear. Coughs can be annoying if they are frequent or they keep you awake at night, but they are important to your body’s defense. In fact, people with weak coughs due to certain musculoskeletal problems often suffer from frequent pneumonia infections because they lack this simple ability to keep their airways clear of germs.
Acute versus chronic cough
Coughs may be acute, caused by a viral or bacterial illness such as the common cold or pneumonia and lasting a week or two, or chronic as in asthma and COPD. Chronic coughs lasting more than a couple of weeks may be caused by:
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- medications (i.e., certain blood pressure medications)
- throat problems
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux)
- CHF (congestive heart failure)
- malignancy of the respiratory tract (i.e., lung cancer)
When should I be concerned about my cough?
Coughs associated with colds will most often go away on their own in a week or two. Sometimes the cough will linger for a short time after the cold symptoms have disappeared. Although the cough may be bothersome, it usually does not require any treatment. Using a cool mist humidifier, drinking plenty of water and/or sucking on cough drops or lozenges may soothe a lingering cough. Sometimes coughs are caused by post-nasal drip (nasal secretions traveling down the back of the throat).
There are certain instances when your cough should prompt you to come see us in the clinic. You should make an appointment if:
- your cough changes in character (becomes deeper, more frequent or produces more sputum than previously)
- you have fever asociated with your cough for more than a day or two
- you have chest pain when you cough
- you have blood in your sputum
- your cough interferes with sleep or other activities
- you have shortness of breath associated with your cough
- your cough lingers long after other symptoms have gone away, or lasts longer than a couple of weeks
- your cough is associated with weight loss, loss of appetite, night sweats or other unusual symptoms
What can I expect when I come to see you about my cough?
When you come in to the clinic to see us regarding your cough, we will first want to know a bit about your past medical history and any medications you are taking if we have not seen you before. We will need to know when the cough started, what other symptoms are associated with it (i.e., sore throat, cold symptoms, fever), whether your cough is productive (you are coughing up phlegm) and what makes your cough better or worse. We will also need to know if you are a smoker.
Once we have gathered some history about your cough we will examine you, which may include:
- looking in your ears, nose and throat
- listening to your chest with a stethoscope for abnormal breath/breathing sounds
- obtaining your vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations and oxygen saturation)
- feeling your head and neck for enlarged lymph glands
- palpating your abdomen
- listening to your heart
Based on what we find when we examine you, we may order diagnostic tests, which might include a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia, blood tests to check for hydration status or signs of infection or inflammation, a sputum sample or pulmonary function testing. We may order other tests if warranted.
Once we have all of the information we need, we will base our treatment on what we believe is causing your cough. We will discuss any test results with you and explain any treatments we prescribe. You should feel free to ask us any questions- we will be happy to answer any questions you have.
If you are suffering from a cough that concerns you, make an appointment to come and see us in the clinic. We promise to take your symptoms seriously- that’s the Advanced Primary Care difference.