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Home > Health Library > Coughs, Age 12 and Older
Coughing is the body's way of removing foreign material or mucus from the lungs and upper airway passages or of reacting to an irritated airway.
Coughs have certain traits you can learn to recognize. A cough is only a symptom, not a disease. Often, you can't tell how serious the problem is until you also look at the other symptoms.
A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus (sputum). The mucus may have drained down the back of the throat from the nose or sinuses. Or it may have come up from the lungs. In most cases, you shouldn't suppress a productive cough. The cough clears mucus from the lungs. There are many causes of a productive cough, such as:
A nonproductive cough is dry. It doesn't produce sputum. A dry, hacking cough may occur toward the end of a cold or after exposure to an irritant, such as dust or smoke. There are many causes of a nonproductive cough. They include:
Many coughs are caused by a viral illness. Antibiotics aren't used to treat viral illnesses. They don't change the course of viral infections. Using an antibiotic when you don't need it exposes you to the risks of an allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may kill helpful bacteria and encourage the growth of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it. For adults and children age 12 and older, these are the ranges for high, moderate, and mild, according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth) temperature
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
Armpit (axillary) temperature
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Pain in adults and older children
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Coughing is your body's way of removing foreign substances and mucus from your lungs and upper airway passages. Productive coughs are often useful. Don't try to stop a productive cough. Sometimes, though, coughs are severe enough to impair breathing or prevent rest. Here are some things you can do at home to help you feel more comfortable when you have a cough.
Fluids may help thin mucus and soothe an irritated throat. Honey or lemon juice in hot water or tea may help a dry, hacking cough.
Try gargling with warm salt water to help ease a sore throat caused by coughing.
This can help ease a dry cough.
Medicine-flavored cough drops are no better than candy-flavored drops or hard candy. Most cough drops have no effect on the cough-producing process.
Try a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the room. Warm or cool mist may help relieve symptoms. Follow all cleaning instructions and precautions for the machine.
Avoid cold remedies that combine medicines to treat many symptoms. In most cases, it's better to treat each symptom separately. There are two kinds of cough medicines: expectorants and suppressants.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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