OakLeaf Medical Network Healthy Viewpoints, Winter 2003
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Michael Smith, MD

Coughs and Respiratory infections

Michael Smith, MD
Internal Medicine & Pediatrics
Southside Medical Clinic
Eau Claire

Cold weather is often associated with the cough and cold season. These illnesses and their symptoms can cause short term discomfort, but they can sometimes be symptoms of a more significant problem. Here are some guidelines to assist in sorting out the difference between significant and nuisance coughs in you or your child. I hope they will help you determine the best course of action when dealing with coughs and respiratory infections.

Any efforts to prevent the conditions that cause coughs and respiratory illness are worthwhile. These steps will not always prevent you from developing a cough, but they can lessen the likelihood.

  1. Stay up-to-date on appropriate vaccinations. Talk with your physician to be sure that you are current. These may include influenza, the pneumonia vaccine, meningitis vaccine, and whooping cough vaccine.
  2. Avoid close contact with others with an upper respiratory illness. Illnesses are often spread by contact with respiratory droplets from infected individuals through coughing, sneezing, touching or handling items.
  3. Be diligent in practicing good hand washing, especially when around others and specifically those who are ill.

Coughs and other upper respiratory infections and symptoms can have a variety of infectious or non-infectious causes:

  • Common colds
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinusitis with post nasal drip
  • Croup
  • Influenza
  • Viral or bacterial pneumonia
  • Asthma and reactive airway disease
  • Environmental irritants – including cigarette smoke
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Allergies

Other illnesses

Symptoms can vary widely in their severity. I’m often asked when one should see a physician for a cough. The most important factor in determining when to contact a health care provider is the overall state of the person with a cough.

Symptoms requiring immediate evaluation by a physician for appropriate diagnosis:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Noise when breathing, whether a wheeze heard when breathing out or stridor heard when breathing in
  • High fever associated with a respiratory problem
  • Any cough that has not resolved over several weeks

Any significant respiratory problem should always be discussed with your physician. An accurate diagnosis is important for proper treatment. The vast majority of coughs are caused by viral infections; therefore antibiotics ( which treat only bacterial infections) are not needed. Treating the common cold with antibiotics will not shorten the course, may cause an allergic or other type of reaction, and will increase the likelihood of developing antibiotic resistance. Most colds last 7-14 days. The cough associated with the common cold helps to keep the lungs and airways clear of the mucus and phlegm that develops, however relief of symptoms may be required to get sleep and rest. A recent study suggested that honey taken for cough does show some benefit in symptom relief. However this treatment is not to be used by children less than a year old due to the risk of infantile botulism.

To subdue cough symptoms:

  • Increase the amount of fluids you drink
  • Use a humidifier, either on your furnace or in your bedroom
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Take Vitamin C by increasing citrus fruits or as a supplement
  • Take Zinc
  • Eat plenty of chicken soup as it has been shown to improve symptom

If you have questions regarding hip pain or arthroscopic hip surgery or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Stewart, Chippewa Valley Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, call 715.832.1400 or 800.322.1747 or visit www.cvosm.com. Dr. Stewart also sees patients in Arcadia, Chippewa Falls and Stanley.