Cough

Cough Specialist
A chronic cough is always a sign of a problem – whether it's the common cold or something more insidious, like COPD or asthma. Meena Mehta, MD in Concord, Massachusetts is a fellowship trained and board-certified specialist in pulmonology, meaning she’s able to track down the source of that cough and develop a tailored care plan for you. There’s no reason to allow a troubling cough to disrupt your life when there is help available.

Cough Q & A

Meena Mehta, MD

What is a cough, exactly?

Coughing is your body's way of expelling an irritant in the throat or airway. Everyone experiences this once in a while. The irritation stimulates a series of nerves that inform the brain of a potential danger. The brain, in turn, sends a message to the muscles in the chest and abdomen, telling them to contract and push air out in an attempt to dislodge the irritant. That autonomic response is a cough.

Coughs are benign, most of the time. They don't indicate any lasting medical problem, but coughs can be a significant symptom of a disease. A persistent cough is always something worth investigating with a specialist like Dr. Mehta. Prolonged and vigorous coughing can interfere with your quality of life, causing headaches, muscle strains, and even bladder problems.

What conditions cause coughing?

That is a long list, because coughing is a protective body function. The medical field breaks coughing down into two categories – acute and chronic.

An acute cough lasts just a short time, usually less than three weeks. Some possible causes of severe coughing include:

  • The common cold
  • The flu
  • An irritant
  • A pulled muscle
  • Whooping cough

Chronic coughs are more persistent, lasting eight weeks or more in adults. They usually indicate a medical problem such as:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • GERD
  • Postnasal drip
  • Acute or chronic sinusitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Emphysema
  • Heart failure
  • Laryngitis
  • Lung cancer
  • A response to medication
  • Neuromuscular diseases
  • Tuberculosis
  • COPD

Some of the conditions on the list are quite serious and require continued medical monitoring with a proactive care strategy. Talk to Dr. Mehta about any concerns you may have.

When should you make an appointment for a cough?

Duration is a good indicator when it comes to coughs. A cough that is persistent, lasting more than a couple of weeks, requires a full evaluation. Make an appointment when a cough is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Thick, greenish-yellow discharge
  • Fever
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Combined with a cough, these indicate a respiratory problem such as infection.

Call 911 for coughs that lead to:

  • Choking
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Coughing up bloody or pink-tinged mucus

These symptoms can indicate a medical emergency, and require immediate treatment at the hospital.

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