A common dilemma, especially this time of year, is when to see a physician for a cough. Many acute (sudden/recent) coughs are caused by viral infections, and will usually resolve within 10-14 days without need for a physician’s visit or prescription medication. In these cases, over-the-counter medication are usually helpful at treating symptoms until the infection clears (check out my list of useful medications for common cold symptoms).
However, there are circumstances when urgent medical care is recommended:
- When a cough lasts longer than 2 weeks,
- Is accompanied by a fever (oral temperature > 100.3 degrees), especially 102 or higher in children and 101 or higher in adults,
- Is complicated by wheezing and/or shortness of breath,
- Sputum (phlegm) is produced that is rust-colored or bloody,
- Other symptoms including chest pain/pressure, ankle swelling, lightheadedness, arm or jaw pain and/or more trouble breathing when laying down accompanies the cough,
- Sudden choking, such as what occurs with aspiration (inhalation) of vomit or a foreign body.
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