When to See a Doctor About Your Cough

When to See a Doctor About Your Cough - Docs Urgent Care – Branford

Coughs are our spontaneous reflex to foreign matter from our throats and airways. Like blinking, sneezing, and other involuntary movements, it’s among our body’s essential protective mechanisms against pathogens.

Although most coughs clear up in a few weeks, even without treatment, those that don’t go away or are accompanied by other symptoms such as excess mucus and shortness of breath may signify a more severe medical problem.

As the leading urgent care experts who continually diagnose and treat patients with coughs daily at our walk-in clinic in Brandford, Connecticut, our team at Docs Urgent Care – Branford has placed together a quick and helpful guide on coughs. Read on to see the differences between acute and chronic coughs — and when to see a doctor for them!

What Are the Causes Behind Acute and Chronic Coughs?

Occasional coughs are normal bodily functions and can happen to anyone. After all, our throats and airways are incredibly sensitive to foreign particles, and they seek to dispel them fast. And these are often at speeds of over 50 miles per hour — via coughing. It’s an instant reaction that’s disruptive but works well!

However, although occasional coughs help clear our sinuses from irritants in our throats and airways, a lingering cough is often a sign of ongoing irritation from allergens, pollutants, or illnesses.

We categorize ongoing coughs depending on their sound and when they happen. For instance, some coughs can be “barky,” resembling a dog’s bark, while others come with wheezing. Regardless of the specific attributes, coughs will fall into two categories:

Acute (Short-term) Cough

walk-in clinic in Branford, Connecticut

Short-term or acute coughs might last for a couple of days or weeks but won’t last over three weeks. Many infection-related coughs fall into this category, and common causes include the following: 

  • Respirator tract infections. These include seasonal flu, COVID-19, whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, and the common cold.
  • Seasonal allergies. For instance, those with hay fever can experience short-term coughs. 
  • Inflammation. Those with long-term airway conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and COPD.
  • Inhalation. When individuals inhale pollutants such as smoke, dust, and toxic fumes, they can develop an acute cough. 

Depending on the cause behind the short-term cough, it might persist and develop into a long-term cough.

Chronic (Long-Term) Cough

Chronic or long-term coughs last longer, often between 3 and 4 weeks, and often come from these causes:

  • Persistent and lingering respiratory infections. These include long-term COVID-19 and bronchitis.
  • Allergies. Those exposed to ever-present indoor allergies, like household dust and pet dander, can develop long-term coughs.
  • Postnasal drips. When caused by long-standing conditions such as sinusitis and rhinitis, postnasal drips can cause chronic coughs. 
  • Uncontrolled asthma. These are often accompanied by tightening of the chest and wheezing. 
  • Smoking. Chronic cough is a common symptom of COPD caused by smoking. 
  • GERD. The gastroesophageal disease can cause long-term cough.


Long-term coughs can signify a more severe medical condition, such as heart failure, tuberculosis, and lung cancer.

Effective Home Remedies for Coughs

If you’re experiencing a mild cough, you can do a few things at home to ease your symptoms, including the following:

  • Lozenges. Cough drops can help ease sore throats and blocked sinuses often associated with coughing. You can suck on a cough drop or a throat lozenge, but avoid giving it to young kids, as it can be a choking hazard.
  • Increase exposure to moisture. Adding humidity to your surrounding air can help soothe your throat when it gets irritated from coughing. You can use a humidifier or increase your shower times.
  • Over-the-counter cough medication. OTC medications are ideal for wet coughs, helping loosen mucus from your sinuses and lungs. Most doctors recommend guaifenesin (Mucinex), and others suggest dextromethorphan (Robitussin) for suppressing the cough reflex. But remember to consult a doctor before taking any medication for your coughs.
  • Drink warm or hot drinks. Broths or teas can help loosen your mucus, reducing irritation in your throat. You can drink warm water or tea with honey and lemon to ease the pain and inflammation. Again, consult a doctor to see if this is safe for you to consume.
  • Reduce exposure to environmental irritants. Avoid things that may lead to more irritation, such as cigarette smoke, dust, and toxic fumes.


Note that these home remedies only work for milder coughs. And it might not work for persistent or chronic coughing with other symptoms. If that’s the case, seek professional medical attention ASAP.

Getting Professional Medical Care

Usually, medical care involves having a doctor look down your throat, listen to your cough, and ask about other symptoms you might be experiencing. 

If your cough roots from bacterial infection, your doctor will likely prescribe oral antibiotics. And often, you’ll need to take these for an entire week or more to cure the cough 100%. Moreover, doctors may also prescribe expectorant cough syrups and suppressants with codeine. 

But if your doctor can’t determine the cause of your coughing, they might order lab tests, including: 

  • Chest x-ray. This test assesses whether your lungs are 100% free. 
  • Skin and blood test. If your doctor suspects an allergic response, they may order these lab tests. 
  • Mucus and phlegm analysis. These tests are what doctors ask for bacterial infections and tuberculosis.

Although it’s rare for coughs to be the only recognizable symptom of heart issues, doctors can still request an echocardiogram, ensuring your heart is working well and not causing your coughs. 

Meanwhile, complex coughing cases may ask for additional tests, including:

  • CT scan. CT scans offer a more detailed view of the chest and airways and are often helpful in confirming the cause of a cough.
  • Esophageal pH monitoring. Doctors ask for this test when the CT scan doesn’t determine the cause of your coughing. You can only get this test from a gastrointestinal or a pulmonary specialist. It checks for traces of GERD.

In coughing cases where previous treatments aren’t possible or unlikely to be successful, doctors expect them to resolve without intervention. But some doctors prescribe cough suppressants.

When to Seek Urgent Care Branford for Cough?

When to Seek Urgent Care Branford for Cough?​

As you can tell, several types of coughs can develop for various reasons. Therefore, it can be challenging to know when you must worry about a “cough” or when typical “coughs” are when it needs professional treatment.

In short, you should see urgent care clinics in Branford, CT, anytime you or a loved one has an unusual cough. And this includes:

Persistent coughs

When you experience persistent and long-term coughs (over three weeks), seek medical attention ASAP. Even when your cough is dry and non-productive, it’s crucial to have it checked by a professional.

Short-term coughs with other symptoms

Although short-term and acute coughs are harmless and clear up without intervention, those accompanied by other symptoms must be checked by a professional ASAP: 

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Piercing headache
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty in breathing 
  • Tightening of chest
  • Whooping or wheezing
  • Barking 
  • Expelling thick phlegm

Coughs accompanied by other symptoms, like chills, vomiting, and body ache, should be assessed with COVID-19 or flu tests.

Why is Cough Diagnosis Essential?

Cough Diagnosis - Docs Urgent Care – Branford

Although many short-term or acute coughs need little more than rest and fluids, concerning coughs, ask for prompt evaluation. After all, it might be a symptom of a more severe illness benefitting from immediate medical care, including antiviral medication for the flu or COVID-19, signifying undiagnosed conditions requiring established treatment plans, including asthma and allergies.

Once the cause behind your cough has been determined, urgent care facilities in Branford, CT, will offer recommendations and treatments to help you feel better and cure your cough faster.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few frequently asked questions about when to see a doctor to address your coughs:

Q: How long has your cough been going?

A: Acute coughs caused by infections or irritants will often improve within three weeks. Meanwhile, chronic coughs usually last longer than eight weeks for adults and four weeks for kids.

Q: What's the difference between wet and dry coughs?

A: Wet coughs bring up mucus from your lungs, while dry coughs don’t. The former might be a symptom of an infection, and the latter often comes from irritation.

Q: How long does your phlegm often last?

A: Phlegm refers to the thick mucus we cough up, which often lasts as long as the underlying medical condition. For instance, the phlegm least for one to two weeks if you have a cold. Meanwhile, bronchitis can take a few weeks to several months for the mucus to disappear.

Q: Can coughing be a symptom of a severe medical condition?

A: Coughs without other symptoms aren’t a cause of concern. Still, it can signify a severe condition like pneumonia or bronchitis. But if you have coughs with other concerning symptoms, such as chest tightness and fever, seek medical attention ASAP.


Anyone can get a cough, but it’s crucial to know when it’s time to see a doctor for a quick remedy. If you suspect your cough has severe underlying causes, don’t hesitate to call Docs Urgent Care – Branford, the leading urgent care Branford facility. With their assistance, you’ll be able to get the proper diagnosis and treatment ASAP.


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