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Is Your Cough from a Cold, or Is It Something More Serious?

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on January 31, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Respiratory Health

It’s still cold and flu season, and many of us are finding ourselves feeling under the weather with the sniffles, headaches and a persistent cough that just won’t seem to go away. While you may think your cough is just another symptom of the common cold and nothing more, after it sticks around for a few days, you might be wondering if it’s actually caused by something more serious.

Lung conditions can sometimes fly under the radar if we aren’t careful, and our resistance to visit the doctor might turn into a much more severe health problem over time. Here are some of the ways you can identify whether your cough is from a cold or if it’s a sign of a more serious respiratory problem.

When a cough is probably from a cold

Coughs are a totally natural way for your body to clear your airways of irritants or phlegm to promote better breathing. You might cough even if you don’t have a cold if something gets stuck in your throat or you breathe in dust.

If you do start to feel sick, the best way to identify whether a cough is normal or not is to see whether it’s accompanied by traditional cold symptoms. These may include a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, congestion, sinus-related headaches, chills and/or phlegm.

Additionally, the common cold should only last around a week, after which you will normally find some relief. If your symptoms start to fade around this timeframe, the cough was likely just part of your average cold.

Signs that a cough is more serious

Unfortunately, our bodies can provide some mixed signals when it comes to illness, leaving us confused and concerned about our health. Here are some signs to watch out for in regard to your cough.

Your symptoms last too long: The average cold will stick around for a little less than a week, meaning you shouldn’t be coughing for more than four of five days. If your cough has persistently lasted for a week or more, it’s probably not a cold but something more severe.

You have a high fever: Even the common cold can leave us feeling feverish, but most people don’t get an extremely high fever from a cold. If you’re experiencing fevers over 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), you may have a more serious condition like strep throat, which likely won’t go away on its own.

Your throat is extremely sore: It’s pretty common to get a sore throat with a cold, especially if you’ve been coughing a lot for the past few days. However, if your throat feels very painful, to the point that you can’t eat or drink anything without pain, you might have strep throat or another serious health problem.

You’re sick to your stomach: If you have a cough but are also throwing up or experiencing diarrhea, something apart from the common cold is probably going on in your body. Colds aren’t usually accompanied by nausea and stomach problems, so you might actually have the flu.

You’re coughing up blood: When you cough, you might be able to dislodge some phlegm stuck in your throat, but that should normally be clear or white in color. If you cough and notice spit or phlegm stained with pink or red, you’re probably coughing up blood. This is very serious, and you should see a doctor right away.

You’re having trouble breathing: A cold might make it difficult for you to breathe through your nose due to stuffiness, but you shouldn’t be experiencing problems breathing into your chest, such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, rattling, wheezing or pain. These symptoms are associated with much more severe respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and can be dangerous if not treated.

Your coughing is predictable: Colds are definitely more common at certain times of the year, but they usually aren’t routine to the point that you can track them. If you find that you get a cough at a particular time of year, after visiting a particular region or after partaking in a specific activity, you might actually have allergies. Perhaps you’re allergic to a type of pollen or weed present outdoors, or you only have contact with a particular indoor allergen at a certain time of year.

See a doctor and take care of your health

If you notice you’re experiencing any of the above-mentioned signs, it’s advised that you visit a doctor as soon as possible to be tested for more serious respiratory illnesses. You may need medication to overcome the ailment.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with another respiratory problem or immune issue like asthma, allergies, diabetes or HIV/AIDS, you’re better off erring on the side of caution and visiting a doctor for a check-up, even without the signs. It’s much better to hear that you are merely suffering from a cold than to ignore a potentially life-threatening health issue.

Finally, whether you think you’re just enduring a common cold or something more severe, make sure to take time to focus on your health. Get lots of fluids, eat healthy foods, rest and get a good night’s sleep each day to help your body stay in the right state to heal.

Read also: Itchy Eyes and Runny Noses: Natural Ways to Combat Fall Allergies

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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