When is a Cough Serious?

A man sitting on a couch coughing.Coughing is a normal reflex and often does not signify a serious underlying medical condition. However, a cough could be connected to a more significant health issue and should be evaluated by a doctor when it is:

  • Severe
  • Worsening over time
  • Occurring frequently over several days or weeks

A cough can be either “acute,” meaning that it lasts less than three weeks, or “chronic,” meaning that it lasts longer. Some causes of acute cough, such as the common cold or exposure to airborne irritants, are not necessarily causes for concern on their own, but others, such as pneumonia and influenza, are potentially life-threatening for some people, such as older adults, infants, and people with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions.

In many cases, chronic coughing is also not indicative of a major, life-threatening health problem, such as when it is caused by mild allergies or asthma. However, it may be a cause for concern when it is severe, frequent, or accompanied by one or more other symptoms, including (but not limited to):

  • Coughing up blood
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

These symptoms could indicate that a cough is associated with a serious underlying medical condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, or pulmonary embolism. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to get evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.

You can receive diagnostic care and specialized treatment for your cough at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care Center. To schedule an appointment, please call (718) 206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.