This week, Dr Ciaran Roarty from Scally Mc Daid Roarty Medical Practice answers common questions about coughs.
“I’ve been coughing for two weeks now doctor and I’m bringing up green mucus. Do I need an antibiotic?”
It’s a common complaint at this time of year. The average adult will suffer a cold about twice a year and children a whopping ten times a year!
We know the symptoms – runny nose, coughing sneezing – and thankfully rest, fluids and paracetamol, maybe with some honey and lemon, usually does the trick. If you are a fit healthy person chances are your cough will be viral in nature and you don’t need to see your doctor or require antibiotics.
But if the cough seems to be lasting longer than usual or we feel more unwell than usual, how do we know if we have a chest infection, which may need more significant treatment including antibiotics in the case of bacterial infections such as pneumonia. What should we look out for?
I have a terrible cough.
Viral coughs can actually produce clear, yellow or green sputum and may in fact last up to three weeks.
But if you find yourself coughing so much that you have chest pain or are coughing up more mucus that you might have done with previous colds, you should see your doctor. Chest infections produce much more mucus and the colour can be yellow green or darker. If you see blood or rust coloured phlegm it’s definitely time to see your doctor. Chest infections may also cause you to feel short of breath or increase your heart rate.
I’m feeling feverish.
Feeling hot does not necessarily mean you have chest infection. With a viral infection the temperature tends to fluctuate but with a bacterial infection ( eg pneumonia) your temperature will remain high at over 38C. If your fever stays high you should contact your GP.
I feel very unwell doctor.
Common colds may see us stretched out for a few days while others can sometimes be managed on the go. But we don’t tend to feel seriously unwell with a common cold or flu like illness. If you have a chest infection you will feel much worse than you have in the past. You may even feel drowsy or a little confused. As well as feeling unwell your doctor will recognise that you look very unwell with a chest infection also.
I’m in pain!
Generalised muscle aches and pains with sore throats and feeling generally unwell are common with the cold and flu-like illness. Paracetamol will help combat this pain. But if you feel severe pain, especially chest pain, or are out of breath or experience chest tightness, its time to see the doctor.
Are there people at more risk than others?
As with many conditions covered in these articles, pre-existing conditions may predispose you to infections. For example asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis which all affect the lungs will make you more at risk of problems with the chest. If you have a weakened immune system or are very young or elderly you will also be more at risk of pneumonia. For those at risk the flu vaccination could be a lifesaver, so it’s important to take it if your doctor advises.
Will I need an antibiotic?
In the case of a viral chest infection for example bronchitis, antibiotics are usually not prescribed. If your doctor suspects a bacterial chest infection your doctor will consider how severe you are affected and your overall health prior to the infection and will often prescribe antibiotics.
The above information is intended as advice only and should you have any concerns please contact your own Doctor.
Dr Ciarán Roarty MB, BCh BAO MICGP DRCOG Grad. Cert. Obst. Ultrasound is a full-time GP at Scally McDaid Roarty Medical Practice , Scally Place, Letterkenny, Tel 0749164111