What started out as mild throat irritation and a minor cough has turned into something else entirely. Your worsening cough is suddenly accompanied by fever, phlegm, wheezing, or other symptoms — or your otherwise routine cough has simply persisted far longer than you thought it would.
So, when should you seek expert care for your cough? Our expert team at American River Urgent Care encourages you to schedule a visit or stop by our walk-in clinic in Orangevale, California, for any of the following reasons:
- Other symptoms accompany your cough
- Your cough has persisted longer than three weeks
- You’re concerned about your cough in any way
As experienced family medicine and urgent care providers who offer prompt diagnosis and treatment for a full scope of acute illnesses, our team can get to the bottom of your cough and help you feel better. Let’s look closer at when a cough calls for expert evaluation.
Understanding your cough reflex
A cough is a natural, involuntary reflex that clears irritants from your upper and lower airways, throat, and lungs. By expelling mucus, germs, airborne pollutants, allergens, and dust from your respiratory tract, coughing protects your airways and your health.
Much like sneezing, blinking, and other spontaneous reflexes, coughing is one of your body’s key defense mechanisms against irritants and foreign invaders. Accordingly, it’s also one of the most common symptoms, triggered by everything from seasonal allergies, post-nasal drip, and acid reflux to acute respiratory infection, asthma, and chronic lung disease.
What kind of cough do you have?
The occasional, random cough helps clear immediate irritants — like dust — from your airway. An ongoing cough, on the other hand, typically signals continued irritation from something like an illness, allergen, or pollutant.
There are many types of lingering coughs. Experts classify them based on their key attributes, such as how they sound (barky vs. whooping cough) when they occur (daytime vs. nighttime cough) or if they bring up mucus (dry vs. productive cough).
Every cough, no matter its characteristics, is also categorized based on its duration:
Whether it lasts for a few days or a couple of weeks, a short-term, acute cough is resolved within three weeks. A subacute cough is one that lingers a bit longer after an infection, lasting three to eight weeks.
Frequent causes of acute cough include respiratory illnesses (i.e., common cold), seasonal allergies (i.e., hay fever), and exposure to airborne pollutants (i.e., wildfire smoke). A flare-up of a long-term airway condition like asthma can also trigger a short-term cough.
When it persists beyond the eight-week mark, a cough becomes chronic. A long-term cough may be a sign of a lingering respiratory illness like chronic bronchitis or long-term COVID-19, or it may be a product of postnasal drip caused by a long-standing condition like sinusitis.
Other common causes of chronic cough include poorly controlled indoor allergens (i.e. dust, pet dander), smoking, uncontrolled asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Less often, a chronic cough may be a symptom of a serious medical condition like lung cancer, heart failure, or tuberculosis.
When to seek care for your cough
Most acute coughs resolve on their own with ample fluids and rest. However, an acute cough becomes concerning when it appears with other symptoms or lingers long enough to qualify as chronic. We encourage you to see our team any time you have a cough that concerns you. We also recommend prompt evaluation for the following:
Any cough that lasts longer than four weeks
Always seek care for a cough lasting longer than three or four weeks, especially if it isn’t improving or worsening.
An acute cough that occurs with other symptoms
The average short-term cough is harmless and clears up without treatment. Still, it’s important for our team to assess an acute cough that’s accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- A low-grade or high fever
- Headache or drowsiness
- Chest pain or tightness
- Breathlessness; wheezing
- Non-stop coughing spells
- Whooping or barking sounds
- Thick, greenish-yellow phlegm
An acute cough that’s accompanied by flu or COVID-like symptoms such as body aches and chills should be evaluated with flu and/or COVID-19 testing.
Do you have a concerning cough? American River Urgent Care is here to help. Stop by our walk-in clinic in Orangevale, California, today — we’re open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm every weekday and from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on weekends. You can also call our office or click online to book an appointment at your convenience anytime.