More Health:

April 23, 2019

Harmless cough or something more serious?

Illness Symptoms

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Woman coughing at work dualstock /

As the cold, winter months begin to wind down and allergy season begins, it’s almost impossible to avoid the echoes of coughing. Fortunately, persistent coughs aren’t typically dire, and can usually be attributed to the common cold, poor air quality, or even a favorite pet.

But how can we differentiate these everyday respiratory irritations from more alarming afflictions? Before panicking, doctors recommend asking a few key questions — has the cough lasted longer than five weeks? Is it getting worse? Does the cough produce blood? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, seek medical attention, and consider asking a doctor about the following conditions.


Though asthma typically presents itself in childhood, adult onset asthma does appear in about nine percent of American adults. Those experiencing obesity are more likely to be diagnosed with adult asthma, and make up about 11 percent of the adult asthma population. Here are a few red flags that asthma may be the culprit behind a persistent cough: dry, non-productive coughs, tightness and pressure in the chest, and excessive shortness of breath – especially after exercise. If these symptoms persist and worsen in the morning or night, asthma is a likely source. Luckily, asthma and its symptoms can be easily controlled when diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

Acid Reflux

This gastro-intestinal illness often falls under the radar when people try to self-diagnose a stubborn cough. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid travels to the esophagus. Though 20 percent of Americans experience acid reflux, many people don’t know that coughing can be one of its primary symptoms. More recognized acid reflux symptoms include frequent heartburn, a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, and difficulty swallowing. If these symptoms occur alongside a chronic cough, or if a cough worsens after eating, consider asking a doctor to get tested for acid reflux.


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a serious, but manageable chronic illness that could be to blame for an unshakeable cough. Affecting roughly 3.1 million people, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. People who smoke are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with the illness, and 90 percent of COPD patients are over the age of 40. Signs someone may be experiencing COPD consist of wheezing, lack of energy, swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs, blueness of the lips or fingernails, and a chronic, mucus-producing cough. If a person over the age of 40 experiences these symptoms, it’s imperative they seek medical attention.

Lung Cancer

Lastly, the dreaded “C” word. Fortunately, only two percent of people who present a chronic cough to a doctor end up with a lung cancer diagnosis. Concerning suggestions of lung cancer include a cough that produces blood and rapid, unexplainable weight loss. If a person has a persistent cough and is worried they may have lung cancer, they should be proactive in compiling a family history of cancer, and make an appointment with a doctor who can order a chest x-ray and CT scan. Contrary to common knowledge, non-smokers can also be at risk for developing lung cancer. In fact, 20 percent of people who died of lung cancer in 2018 never smoked tobacco at all. Early diagnosis is key to beating lung cancer, so anyone experiencing worrisome symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Having a cough that won’t heal on its own can be unnerving, and navigating the next step in diagnosis may feel intimidating. The best way to combat unnecessary concern is to rule out the most likely factors — allergies, the common cold, or a non-threatening virus. Once those have been eliminated, a medical professional can perform more detailed tests to evaluate other possibilities.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on this web site is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider on any matters relating to your health.

Follow us

Health Videos