when to worry about a cough

Does that annoying, hacking cough you’ve been dealing with refuse to go away? If you are also experiencing wheezing, shortness of breath, or weight loss, it could be an indicator of something more serious.

“If a cough goes on more than a couple of weeks, contact your primary care provider to be evaluated,” says Joseph Cincotta, MD, physician at PinnacleHealth Shepherdstown Family Practice. “You don’t want to just treat the symptoms and mask a more serious condition.”

Your cough could be caused by a variety of conditions, including the flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Visiting your doctor is the most effective way to determine the cause, as examinations and diagnostic testing are often necessary to distinguish between bronchitis and pneumonia.

These telltale signs of more serious illnesses could help you determine when a visit with your doctor is needed:

  • Flu—A main indicator of the flu is how suddenly it strikes. With its rapid onset over a matter of hours, the flu can take someone who is feeling perfectly fine and make him or her quickly feel miserable with high fever, headache, body aches, coughing, and head congestion. Flu sufferers may also experience a sore throat.
  • Bronchitis—This condition typically develops as a secondary infection to colds or flu-like illnesses. Affecting the larger breathing passages, it causes symptoms such as chest discomfort, wheezing, fatigue, and low-grade fever.
  • Pneumonia—This serious ailment can be either bacterial or viral. Many viral pneumonia symptoms look like early symptoms of the flu, while bacterial pneumonia often causes a higher fever along with profuse sweating and increased heart rate as well as traditional symptoms such as cough, chills, and shortness of breath.

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“If you have questions about your ailment, don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider. Also, understand that most illnesses resolve themselves within a week or two with supportive measures such as eating right, getting enough rest, drinking enough fluids, and appropriate over-the-counter treatment. Antibiotics aren’t always necessary.”

Don’t have a primary care physician? Click here for more information on Primary Care at PinnacleHealth.

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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