Questions to Ask your Doctor about Cough
Write down any questions you may have for your doctor so you won't forget to ask them during your visit.
- Is my cough ever going to go away?
- What additional warning signs should I be aware of with a cough?
- Do I need antibiotics to treat my cough?
- Is my cough contagious?
- How serious is my cough?
- Will my cough go away if I stop smoking?
- Is it a good idea to take medication to suppress my cough?
Most of the time a cough will go away on its own over the course of days or weeks. If your cough persists, your doctor may need to perform some tests to identify other less common causes of cough. Depending on the cause of your cough, treatment of chronic cough will help make your cough better and sometimes completely resolve it. There are some patients where chronic cough will persist despite adequate treatment.
It should be brought to your doctor's attention any time your cough is associated with high fever, shortness of breath, new phlegm production or change in the color or quantify of the phlegm you normally produce every day. Coughing up blood is another important symptom and may indicate a serious illness. Sudden onset of cough and shortness of breath with or without chest pain needs immediate medical attention.
Respiratory infections can make us cough. Most of the time those infections are causes by viruses, such as the common cold. Those infections do not require antibiotics. In a minority of cases, bacteria can cause these infections. If that is the case, your doctor will evaluate when and which antibiotics you need.
A cough could be contagious when it is caused by an infection that spreads through the air when sneezing or coughing. Not all infections of the airway and lung are contagious but many are. When you have a respiratory infection, remember to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or cough into your upper sleeve. Your doctor can give you information regarding when you are no longer contagious depending on the type of infection.
Most causes of cough are not serious and will resolve on their own. A persistent cough with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, phlegm production, rapid breathing, chest pain or wheezing could indicate an underlying disease that needs the immediate attention of your doctor.
Quitting smoking is always good for your airway and lungs no matter when you do it. Quitting can improve your cough and sometimes make it disappear. Even if smoking has chronically damaged your lungs and makes you cough every day, quitting smoking will always improve your cough.
Cough is an important reflex. It is a defense mechanism used by your body to keep your airway and lungs clean of particles, microbes, irritants, dust, and mucus. More important than just suppressing your cough is to find out why you have persistent cough. Once the cough cause is detected and treatment is started, cough-suppressant medications may help decrease the intensity and frequency of cough.
This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.
Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed July 13, 2016.