Medical Program Assistant | Mental Health Services
When a Cough Isn’t Just a Cough
Cough, Cough, COUGH. Got a cough that just won’t leave you alone? Most coughs are a symptom of an upper respiratory infection—such as a cold or the flu—and can only get better with time. However, sometimes a cough is a sign of a more serious health issue. But how do you know when a cough isn’t just a cough?
Whoop there it is
Anyone who has ever had pertussis—more commonly known as whooping cough—knows it is more than just a cough. This highly contagious bacterial disease is identified by its uncontrollable coughing fits. The initial symptoms are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and low fever, but after about 10 days, a violent cough develops with a characteristic ‘whooping’ noise—a result of difficulty breathing. The coughing fits are uncomfortable and tend to disrupt daily activities and sleep.
Pertussis is highly contagious and very dangerous for infants and children. If you have a cough such as the one described, see your healthcare provider or call UHS at 608-265-5600 or use MyUHS to schedule an appointment.
There is a vaccination that protects against pertussis and is available to students at UHS for an additional fee.
Minor coughs that do not interfere with sleeping or activities are most likely due to a viral upper respiratory infection.
A viral upper respiratory infection (URI) usually lasts 10 to 14 days. During this time, nose and throat inflammation irritates nerves of the respiratory tract and can make us cough. At the beginning of a cold, you are typically coughing up some sort of phlegm, getting rid of an irritant in your lungs. As you begin to recover, the wet cough turns into a dry cough. Dry coughs do not produce any phlegm.
Sometimes, even after an infection has cleared, airways continue to be inflamed and sensitive. A cold cough can take as long as two to four weeks to end. Most coughs that come with colds clear on their own time without any treatment. However, you can soothe your symptoms.
Tis the season
Another factor to consider is the time of year. Is your cough tight and wheezy? Are you experiencing other symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, and itchy eyes and nose? Do you get symptoms like this every year around this time? If this is the case, your cough could be a symptom of allergies. Allergy symptoms happen when the immune response is oversensitive to a certain allergen and causes a reaction.
The chronic cough
After eight weeks, a cough is considered chronic. Sometimes a chronic cough is a sign of underlying health issues. A chronic cough could be a sign of asthma, particularly if a person feels tightness in the chest and is out of breath. These coughs are usually wheezy. If you are concerned about a chronic cough, talk to your healthcare provider or make an appointment at UHS.
Keep it to yourself
If you have a cough, keep your friends healthy. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Consider carrying a small hand sanitizer in your backpack for times when soap and water are not available.