When Does a Cough Need Medical Treatment?

Posted on: 24 October 2017


Coughs are a typical part of several illnesses, most commonly colds and flu. You might also find yourself coughing due to allergies, cold weather, dust or a whole range of other simple and harmless factors.

But just because coughs are not usually cause for concern doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to them. The signs of a cough becoming serious are not always as obvious as you might think, so don't assume you'll always know when it's time to get yourself to a doctor.

These are the symptoms that could be a sign of a more serious condition, but this is not an exhaustive list. It's important to know your own body and be suspicious of anything that doesn't seem right.

Unusually productive cough

Chesty coughs involve a certain amount of phlegm, and producing some of it when you cough is usually perfectly normal.

The mucus should be at least close to clear and not too thick. There should also not be huge amounts of it. If it's green or yellow, particularly thick, or you're coughing up a lot of phlegm, this could be because of infection.

Long-term coughing

Coughs can sometimes last longer than you might expect and still be nothing to worry about. If you've been coughing for more than three weeks, it's time to see a doctor. You may have bronchitis, which will need antibiotics.


Coughing up a little bit of blood doesn't usually mean anything serious is going on, particularly if the problem goes away. In many cases, it's simply because the esophagus has been damaged by repeated coughing. Ongoing bleeding or larger amounts of blood should have you heading to the doctor immediately, however.

Difficulty breathing

With or without a cough, breathing difficulties are a good reason to see a doctor quickly. This problem can become serious quite quickly, so don't delay.

Worsening cough

A cough will gradually get worse over a few days to begin with, but then it should stabilise or begin to improve. If it suddenly starts to get worse again, it likely indicates an infection, and it won't get better without seeing a doctor for antibiotics or other treatment.

High temperature

A cough along with a temperature of 38 degrees or higher should always be investigated, as it could indicate a more serious condition. This fever might also cause night sweats, confusion or even hallucinations, any of which make it more urgent. In such a case, visit a walk in medical clinic.