When to Go to the ER For a Cough

When to Go to the ER

Jun 12, 2019


At some point or another, everyone experiences the common cold. And yes, coughing is as disruptive as it is annoying. Coworkers may stare at you as if you have the plague, and sleep may elude you as you are overcome with coughing fits.

But how do you know if you should ride it out with cough drops and tissues or seek medical attention? To help determine whether you’ll be fine after a couple days of TLC or whether you might have a respiratory infection, let’s review the most common reasons for coughing.

Common Cold

The common cold is an infection that only affects the nose and throat. Symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion

It’s relatively harmless and people generally recover within a week.

When to see a doctor for a common cold: See a doctor if symptoms persist for more than 10 days, or if the patient has a fever, ear pain, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

Influenza (the flu)

Influenza is a viral infection that affects both the upper respiratory tract as well as the lungs. Symptoms include:

  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Exhaustion

When to see a doctor for influenza: While the flu can go away on its own, complications can be life-threatening. Therefore, see a doctor if the patient falls into any of these categories: Weakened immune system, pregnant, younger than five years of age, older than 65, or obese.


Bronchitis is the medical term used when your bronchial tubes become inflamed. It can develop from complications of the common cold or an upper respiratory infection.  A patient with bronchitis will cough up mucus, and the discomfort may last up to 10 days. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mild fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Phlegm
  • Chest congestion
  • Mild body aches

Once you heal from bronchitis, it’s common to have a lingering cough for several weeks. However, the rest of the symptoms should disappear.

When to see a doctor for bronchitis: See a doctor if the illness is recurring, since chronic bronchitis may be a sign of a more serious infection. Seek medical attention if you have a fever higher than 100.4 F, or if you’re coughing up blood.


Pneumonia is an infection that causes the air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed. It can range from mild to life-threatening, so it’s important to pay attention to symptoms. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain when coughing
  • Chest pain when taking deep breaths
  • Phlegm
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

When to see a doctor for pneumonia: Go to the ER if you have a fever of over 102 F, are coughing up phlegm, or have difficulty breathing. See a doctor immediately if you’re undergoing chemotherapy or have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, such as cancer, lupus, or HIV.

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you’re not feeling well, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.

Find the Complete Care location nearest you.