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Healthcare 101: Coughs and What They Mean

Following the time of holiday tunes in every storefront, we’re entering the season for a less melodic sound: constant coughs from nearly everyone you meet. Coughing rapidly expels air from the lungs, allowing us to get rid of microbes, irritants or foreign bodies. Although we cough for many different reasons, listening carefully to different types of coughing can help you determine the possible causes.

Types of Coughs and What They Mean

Not all coughs are created equal. If you or your child has a cough, pay attention to sound, frequency of coughing and mucus production to get an idea of what is causing the cough. If your cough persists for more than two or three days, visit your health provider to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment options.

Phlegmy Cough

The common cold often produces coughs that are “productive,” meaning that they produce phlegm as you cough. If your cough has a mucousy sound or you are coughing up phlegm, a viral infection is the likely culprit. Antibiotics can’t fight against viruses, but getting some rest, drinking plenty of fluids and using a cool-mist humidifier will help.

Whooping Cough

Like its name suggests, whooping cough—a bacterial infection also known as pertussis—has a very characteristic sound. This cough comes in fits, sometimes causing 20 or more coughs in a breath. This leads to difficulty breathing, which causes a “whooping” sound as you try to catch your breath. Children and young babies are at greatest risk for whooping cough. To protect yourself, make sure you and your child are current on your pertussis vaccine. If you have whooping cough, antibiotics can rid your body of the infection.

Wheezing or Gurgling

A cough that sounds raspy or whistling may be a sign of bronchiolitis. Bronchiolitis is an infection of the tiny airways in the lungs, often caused by respiratory syncytial virus. Your medical provider can diagnose bronchiolitis and provide treatment recommendations (again, because the infection is viral, antibiotics don’t help).

Hoarse Cough Coupled with Severe Fatigue

A hoarse cough could mean a number of things, but when combined with severe fatigue, fever, runny nose or muscle aches, the influenza virus is the most common cause. Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help to bring a fever down, while plenty of rest and fluids will help you stay hydrated until the infection passes. Getting an annual flu vaccine significantly lowers your risk of being taken out by the flu this year.

If you have a wet, phlegmy cough that just won’t go away, pneumonia is a possible cause. Pneumonia can be caused by a virus or bacterial infection that makes the lungs fill with fluid. This cough tends to linger for days or even weeks. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, while you will have to allow viral pneumonia to run its course.

If you’re experiencing wet coughs or just an overall change in your health, find your closest CareSpot location for an evaluation.