A young woman coughing with a capkin held in hands | Feature | A young woman coughing with a capkin held in hands

At times it may seem like a cough is intent on sticking around, but how do I know if my cough is serious? We look at when a cough is just an inconvenience, and when it requires medical attention.

RELATED: Why Do We Cough?

In this article:

  1. An Inconvenient Cough
  2. How Do I Know If My Cough Is Serious? | Adults
  3. How Do I Know If My Cough Is Serious? | Checklist
  4. How Do I Know If My Child’s Cough Is Serious?

How Do I Know If My Cough Is Serious?

An Inconvenient Cough

At best, a cough is inconvenient, from the initial tickle in your throat to the constant hacking. Not to mention the sleepless nights and aching core muscles.

While a lingering cough may be annoying, a persistent cough can be a cause for concern. But how do you tell the difference?

Coughing is a natural way for your body to get rid of any irritants or secretions from your lungs. You might be coughing because of something that’s mostly harmless. Things like dust and allergies are common culprits. In other words, it’s not always necessary to worry about it.

Furthermore, doctors classify a cough as chronic if it lasts for more than eight weeks. So, if you hit the eight-week mark, you should definitely consult a healthcare worker. But, if you don’t feel sick, check your environment for something that might be causing your cough.

If you suspect your cough may be dangerous, here’s an outline of when you should consult a medical professional.

How Do I Know If My Cough Is Serious? | Adults

A man coughing while working on the computer | How Do I Know If My Cough Is Serious? | Adults | How Do I Know If My Cough is Serious? | 6 Ways To Tell

When you have a persistent cough accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor as soon as possible. More specifically, if it affects your ability to function normally, causes fatigue, and keeps you awake at night, talk to a medical professional.

Here are six ways to tell if your cough is serious.

Thick, Yellow, Green or Brown Phlegm

Greenish-yellow mucus or phlegm is usually a sign that your lungs are infected.

Some viral infections like bronchitis might start off with white phlegm. But, if it changes to yellow or green, it could indicate that the illness progresses from viral to bacterial.

Pneumonia might be another reason for yellow or green phlegm. In some cases, it may also cause bloody mucus. Other symptoms depend on the type of pneumonia, but most commonly, you’ll have a fever and shortness of breath.

Conditions like pneumoconiosis or an abscess in your lung might cause brown phlegm. Additionally, if your mucus has a foul smell, you should see your doctor.

Thick, Yellow, Green or Brown Phlegm

A persistent cough accompanied by red, pink, or bloody phlegm is severe. The most common causes include pneumonia, tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, or lung cancer.

Speak to your doctor as soon as you notice bloody phlegm.

Black Phlegm

Black phlegm could be from smoking, or it may indicate that you inhaled something black, like coal dust. However, it could also be a sign that you have a fungal infection.

Fungal infections are rare, but they will require medical treatment.

Fainting

Fainting after prolonged bouts of coughing is another cause for concern. Violent coughing episodes also disrupt the blood flow to your heart. As a result, your brain receives less oxygen, which causes you to faint.

It’s crucial to seek medical help if you faint from coughing because repeated fainting might affect your brain.

Swollen Feet or Ankles

Acute heart failure and congestive heart failure are severe conditions where the heart doesn’t pump blood around the body at the right pressure. Consequently, it causes your feet or ankles to swell.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath and fast or shallow breathing. Both conditions are life-threatening, and you should see your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Unexplained Weight Loss

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss. However, if you experience weight loss alongside prolonged coughing, it might be a sign of lung cancer or tuberculosis.

RELATED: How To Describe A Cough?

Cough Severity Checklist

If you’re experiencing a cough alongside any of these symptoms consult a healthcare professional:

  • Your cough lasts more than eight weeks
  • Fever
  • Thick phlegm that’s yellow, green, red, brown or black
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Fainting
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

How Do I Know If My Child’s Cough Is Serious?

A mom taking care of her son who is having a fever on the bed | How Do I Know If My Child's Cough Is Serious? |

Your child’s cough might simply be due to a cold, but other conditions could also be responsible. If your child develops any of these symptoms, call you pediatrician:

  • Fever
  • Choking or vomiting
  • The cough lasts more than three weeks or gets worse
  • Trouble breathing or rapid breathing
  • Turns red during a coughing fit
  • Lethargy
  • Chest pain

Children can’t always explain how they’re feeling, so keep a close eye on your child when they have a cough.

To conclude, if you’re concerned about your or your child’s cough, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can rule out any serious conditions and help you manage a lingering cough. Additionally, long-term coughing can cause other complications like fractured ribs. Rather talk to your doctor, than run the risk of serious complications.

Are you concerned about your cough? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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