Like many annoying symptoms when we’re sick, it’s easy to blame the symptom itself — such as coughing — without realizing that it’s actually your body’s attempt at making you better. When you have a cough, or a runny nose, for example, your sickness isn’t the cough or runny nose itself. Those are byproducts of your body’s fervent attempt to rid your system of the illness. Since we’re right smack in the midst of a pretty major flu season here in Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard the coughs of your coworkers, family, and friends as they go about their day. Each time they’re coughing, that’s their body’s attempt to expel irritants from their lungs, clearing the way for what will (eventually) be an unclogged respiratory system.
If you’ve come down with a cough and you can’t trace it to any sort of direct irritant (such as inhaling dust or another foreign object), chances are you’ve got a cold or flu, and your body is doing what it can to rid itself of those pesky foreign bodies. But not all coughs are created equal, and some are significantly more serious than others. Don’t worry: the vast majority of coughs do not indicate any sort of major underlying problem, and most will resolve themselves as you continue to rest and treat your body right. However, different coughs can mean different things, and listening to our bodies to see exactly what they’re going through can go a long way towards being an active participant in our health care process.
Unless something seems really wrong right off the bat, step one is to try and self-treat your cough by getting rest and staying hydrated. When you drink lots of fluids, you’re helping your body thin out the mucus it’s creating, which makes it easier to expel and less irritating for your system to clear. As far as that nasty irritation is concerned, cough drops and things like tea with honey can do a good job at soothing a tender throat that’s been through a lot of coughing. However, note that those things are only serving to ease your discomfort, and are not actually treating any underlying issue.
At a certain point, however, it may be time for a visit to urgent care if your cough does not improve. Some warning signs that a doctor visit are necessary include a cough that persists for longer than two weeks, or a cough that produces dark — or bloody — phlegm. These are signs that your cough may not be viral, like most cold/flu issues, but in fact bacterial, which can take some medication and planning with your doctor to knock out completely. You know your body best: when in doubt, if you feel like your cough is more severe than usual or more productive (phlegmy) than usual, it’s best to get the peace of mind that comes with a visit to your friendly neighborhood urgent care center… might we suggest Urgent 9?