What your cough is trying to tell you

An expectorant is the fancy name for the category of drugs that get mucous out of your system, like Robitussin and Mucinex. Remember to cough into your elbow, 
not your hand, to prevent the spread of germs.

I had a cold last week, and now have a cough that won’t go away. Do I have anything to worry about?

A cough is the body’s way of clearing out mucous or foreign material (like dust, hair or pollen) from your airways. The forceful muscular contraction of your diaphragm and chest wall muscles propels a blast of air out of your lungs, thereby moving the unwanted substance up and out of your chest.
A variety of illnesses and conditions can cause a cough. The most common of these include viral and bacterial infections that may result in bronchitis or pneumonia, or non-infections like asthma, allergies, post-nasal drip and Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

Viruses are the most common cause of infections that cause coughing. The symptoms of a common cold (aka a viral upper respiratory infection) may include a sore throat, nasal congestion, fever and cough. Viral illnesses do not require antibiotics and usually last seven to 14 days following the time of onset of symptoms. A cough accompanied by shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing or blood-tinged mucous may suggest bronchitis or pneumonia. It may be difficult to tell the difference between a viral and bacterial illness, so consult your doctor if your symptoms are more serious than your usual cold. Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections, but are useful in fighting bacterial infections. A doctor can help you decide if you need a prescription for antibiotics.  

A cough may be dry or produce mucous or phlegm. The presence or absence of mucous and its color are not indications of the seriousness of illness. It is better to cough mucous out of your chest and an expectorant like guaifenesin (Robitussin, Mucinex) may be useful. A dry cough may, however, benefit from a prescription cough suppressant. Again, ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do if you are not certain.
 
Asthma, allergies, post-nasal drip and GERD may all result in the airway irritation that causes coughing. A cough that lasts more than a few weeks may have multiple causes. These conditions are often overlapping and may require a period of trial and error in both evaluation and treatment of symptoms. You may need a chest X-ray if your exam reveals abnormal breath sounds when your physician listens to your chest. Don’t be alarmed if your doctor wants to try treatment that could help a wide range of ailments. He or she may try antibiotics, inhalers, allergy pills, antacids, steroid nasal sprays and/or systemic anti-inflammatory steroids.

A cough causes extra water vapor losses in your breath, and mucous is easier to cough out if it is more liquid than thick, so remember to stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water if you are ill.

— Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. E-mail him your questions at askdrmark@metro.us.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.