The fatigue and discomfort of a lingering cough is annoying enough, without disrupting your entire schedule to schlep to the doctor’s office. And, thankfully, some coughs have relatively mild (if annoying) symptoms that you can control with over-the-counter medication. However, others come with side effects that hint at a more serious illness. Use this cheat-sheet to help figure out which category your cough falls into, and where you should look for relief.
Just remember: each cough is unique, so trust your gut instinct. If you’re concerned that you're sick enough to need medical attention, talk to your doctor.\
The Type of Cough
That lingering cough is definitely annoying, but that doesn’t automatically make it risky enough to warrant a doctor’s visit.
When Over-the-Counter Works: If you have a dry cough (meaning you aren’t coughing up mucus) that stems from an obvious source, like a prior cold or flu, you can probably control your symptoms with an over-the-counter medication for the time being. Choose one that contains dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant. This medication, which is found in Delsym® Cough products, suppresses the “cough center” of your brain to keep pesky coughs at bay.
When to Consult Your Doctor: If you have a wet, productive cough where you’re coughing up thick white, yellow or green sputum, consider seeing your doctor. While the color of your mucus alone isn’t enough to tell if you have a more serious infection, coughing up colored mucus might indicate that you have a bacterial infection so it warrants further investigation. If your cough lasts more than seven days or worsens suddenly, and if other symptoms like fever do worsen over the course of the cough. Coughing up blood is a sign you should visit the emergency room of your local hospital.
Your Other Symptoms
That lingering cough may come along with some decidedly unwelcome symptoms. Which symptoms you have may determine your best course of action.
When Over-the-Counter Works: It’s normal to have a sore throat or headache to accompany your cough. The act of coughing itself can trigger a headache. Further, nasal congestion may cause post-nasal drip, which can trigger your cough as well as affect your throat. Soothe a sore throat a headache and nasal congestion with a cough medication that also contains acetaminophen (a pain reliever) and phenylephrine HCl (a decongestant). Delsym® Cough+ Cold Night Time and Day Time formulations contain both, along with effective cough suppression.
When to Consult Your Doctor: Other symptoms indicate that a visit to your doctor is in order. If you’re running a fever, losing weight without an obvious explanation or you have abdominal swelling or pain, seek immediate medical attention. You should also make an appointment if you’re feeling short of breath, wheezing or noticing strange high-pitched noises when you breathe.
How Long It Lasts
We get it — we know your cough can’t go away fast enough. But here’s how to know if it’s really lingering on too long.
When Over-the-Counter Works: It’s normal for your cough to stick around for a week or two after other cold symptoms clear up, or to last for two to three weeks in total. If you’re within this time frame and don’t have other health concerns, then you can likely manage your symptoms with an over-the-counter medication for now. Try one with a time-released formula for longer-lasting cough suppression. Delsym® 12 Hour Cough, for example, offers up to 12 hours of cough relief from each dose.
When to Consult Your Doctor: If your cough is still going strong after two weeks or worsens over the time period, it’s time to check in with your doctor. You might choose to visit your doctor sooner if your cough starts getting worse instead of better — even if it hasn’t yet been two weeks — to rule out a more serious underlying cause.
The fatigue and discomfort of a lingering cough is annoying enough, without disrupting your whole schedule to schlep to the doctor’s office.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cough
- West Virginia University: Get The Scoop On Mucus: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
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