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What's In a Cough?

Everyone is coughing this time of year but most likely not because they have COVID-19! During a world wide pandemic when everyone feels on edge, its hard to have even the slightest tickle in your throat at the office without someone giving you the “do you have the coronavirus?” stare! Spring time is here, and while the warmer weather is beautiful and bringing us more time outdoors to be active, it is also bringing about those miserable allergies! More than 50 million Americans suffer with allergies yearly.1 As one of the country’s most common but often overlooked diseases, it is important for you to be informed about allergy symptoms. Spring is bringing about right now our usual expected population of allergy induced coughs and reactive airway flares, amongst typical spring colds and bronchitis cases, which creates a lot of anxiety for many since early coronavirus symptoms can mimic these common illnesses. There’s a lot of confusion about coughs and what to do if you cough so we want to make you as informed as possible so you can evaluate your symptoms at home, make informed decisions about your healthcare, and help us serve you better! Let’s break down some common types of coughs so you know if you cough or feel under the weather what your symptoms might be coming from and what to do! 

The Allergy Cough

Most commonly symptoms of allergies include sneezing, clear runny nose, itchy watery eyes, also at times a dry cough. You may be experiencing allergy symptoms this year for the first time in your life. This is because allergies are more prevalent this year due to stronger and higher pollen amounts than we have experienced before due to much warmer weather during our seasons. The cough that is developed from allergies is commonly dry and happens off and on due to nasal drainage coming down the back of the throat creating a tickling sensation or having to clear your throat. Also allergy coughs can be a little more complicated at times. People with allergies can develop what we call “reactive airway” which can make you feel like you can’t take a full deep breath very well. This cough can become repetitive and you can start “coughing fits” where it’s hard to stop coughing sometimes. You may also hear a musical sound in your chest called a wheeze. These are symptoms you would want to call a triage nurse about and make an appointment to be seen by a provider since prescribed inhalers can help. 

  • It’s important to remember that with allergies you will not run a fever. 
  • Allergy coughs can come and go and can be worse at night due to drainage

The Upper Respiratory Infection Cough

Spring is also infamous for its fair share of upper respiratory viruses. These coughs are often dry and hacking to slightly productive with mucous and can become problematic to get rid of once they start, even sometimes lasting for 3 weeks. Low grade fever can be present as well as cold symptoms so it is difficult in the early stages to decipher from coronavirus. If you have no known COVID-19 exposures and have symptoms of low grade fever and cough and do not have shortness of breath it is best to quarantine yourself for 72 hours at home and see if your symptoms get better. If they do, then you likely do not have coronavirus. If symptoms are persistent or if you have a known exposure to coronavirus, you should call a triage nurse about your symptoms. If it is determined that you do not need to be sent for coronavirus testing, you may need to schedule to see a provider for your symptoms to see if any treatment is needed. 

The Bronchitis Cough 

Bronchitis causes a deep cough that is usually mucous producing with yellow/green mucous. The cough comes on fast and continuous and can commonly be accompanied with cold symptoms and chills and fatigue. Some people are more prone to bronchitis than others due to chronic lung disease. If you have these symptoms please call a triage nurse to schedule an appointment with a provider to be evaluated to see what treatment is needed. 

The Coronavirus Cough 

The coronavirus cough is a continuous cough throughout the day that is dry, hard, and course. Cough is often the first symptom to appear. Fever of 100.4 or above is very common to come on first as well. Sore throat can be present as well as generalized aches and fatigue. Less commonly nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can happen a few days before cough starts. Chest pressure and shortness of breath can appear days later. Shortness of breath can signify pneumonia and in severe cases can lead to respiratory failure with patients needing intubation. If you have these symptoms then you may need to be tested for COVID-19 if you are in a high risk group. Otherwise we recommend self-quarantine at home. If you have symptoms please call our office and speak to a triage nurse about your symptoms and if testing is right for you. You will need a provider’s order to test. If you have already developed significant shortness of breath you need to call 911 for transport to the hospital to evaluate you for pneumonia. 

Who Gets Tested for COVID-19?

Right now with limited testing available, there are criteria that we as providers follow in order to decide on who we send for testing. Testing has been reserved for high risk groups like the following: 
1. Healthcare workers 
2. Public Safety (law enforcement, firefighters, EMS) 
3. People who work in facilities or institutions where illness could spread rapidly (nursing homes, schools, correctional facilities) 
4. People 60 and older 
5. People with chronic medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, lung disease) 
6. Pregnant patients 
7. Caregivers for elderly or immune compromised people

Symptom Criteria for COVID-19 Testing 

1. Fever—100.4 
2. Cough 
3. Shortness of Breath 

To remember your coronavirus facts just say COVID: 
C ontinuous course dry cough 
O ver 100.4 fever 
V ery short of breath call 911 to be taken to ER to evaluate you for pneumonia 
I ntubation required for those with severe respiratory failure 
D isease prevention is by good hand washing and avoiding touching your face in public 

Make sure you get any additional information from credible resources like the sites below and not social media! 

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