(BPT) - It's a familiar situation — a light tickle in your throat soon turns into a cough that sounds like it could be trouble. Is it allergies, a cold, RSV or something worse? With so many potential causes of cough, especially during cold and flu season, it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. Moreover, despite how common a cough is, there are several misconceptions that can lead to further confusion about what your cough might mean.
“Clearing up the common myths can not only help people get to the root cause of their symptoms, but it can also empower them to take charge of their health in an informed way,” said Dr. Vontrelle Roundtree, associate chief medical officer at MDLIVE. “Identifying the underlying condition or trigger of one’s cough is crucial in ensuring appropriate and effective treatment.”
To combat the confusion, Dr. Roundtree outlines common misunderstandings about coughs and how to determine when to seek care from a doctor.
1. Myth: Antibiotics will cure any cough.
For coughs associated with a respiratory infection caused by a virus, you won’t find much relief through antibiotics. Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics are ineffective against viruses as they are designed to combat bacterial infections. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they can ultimately cause more harm than good — such as abdominal pain, rashes and allergic reactions.
2. Myth: The duration of the cough isn’t that important.
Believe it or not, the sound of a cough isn’t the only thing that matters when determining the severity of an underlying condition. The duration of a cough is often more telling in getting to the root cause of the issue. For instance, an acute cough, which typically lasts less than three weeks and is often accompanied by additional cold-like symptoms, can pinpoint a short-lived illness. On the flip side, a cough that lasts more than eight weeks can point to a chronic condition, like asthma or allergies.
3. Myth: The scarier the cough sounds, the worse it is.
Some coughs may sound more alarming than others, but it is important not to judge a cough by its sound alone. A scary-sounding cough doesn't always indicate a serious condition. While a cough can be a vital symptom in determining the underlying issue, it should always be evaluated in conjunction with other symptoms. If you or your loved one experiences difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, or bluish lips or face, seek emergency care.
4. Myth: No cough means no real sickness.
It's easy to think that a lack of coughing equates to a lack of illness, but this isn't always true. Some illnesses, like strep throat and mononucleosis, don't usually come with a cough. Remember, diseases can show up in different ways — and sometimes, coughs develop later. If you are unsure about being sick, you can conduct a visit with an MDLIVE virtual care provider from the comfort of your home — usually within 15 minutes or less — and avoid exposure to other sick people in crowded urgent care centers, walk-in clinics or ER waiting rooms. MDLIVE physicians can also help you determine if your cough may require an in-person assessment.
5. Myth: All coughs are contagious.
While it’s common to associate coughing with a contagious illness, the truth is that not all coughs are transmissible. Coughs that are a result of non-infectious conditions, including allergies, asthma or GERD, do not pose a risk to others. Without getting a diagnosis from a healthcare professional, it is difficult to tell if your cough is contagious.
Once you understand your cough better, you’ll be more equipped to properly manage and treat your symptoms. For immediate relief, remedies like hot tea and honey, steamy showers, or over-the-counter medications like cough suppressants or expectorants can help alleviate your cough. If you are grappling with a persistent, severe or worrisome cough, it's crucial to seek guidance from a trusted medical professional to get to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms