When to Go to a Doctor or Urgent Care for a Cough

Woman coughing holding chest.jpg

A dry environment, viruses and allergies are all things that can make us cough. While some coughs are temporary and harmless, others that are ongoing (last for several weeks) can be a sign of a potentially serious medical issue. Loras Even, DO, UnityPoint Health, explains which coughs require an urgent care visit and how your care team can help you feel better.

When Should I Go to Urgent Care for a Cough?

Persistent coughs bring a lot of people to urgent care.

“We’re especially concerned when a cough worsens, is associated with a fever or causes breathing problems,” says Dr. Even. “Patients experiencing these symptoms should come in for an evaluation.”

Reasons to See a Doctor About a Cough

Some coughs get better at home, but if yours isn’t letting up or is accompanied by symptoms that are making you miserable, it’s time to see a doctor to get some relief.

Types of coughs frequently seen in urgent care include:

  • Cough causing headache
  • Nonstop cough
  • Long-lasting dry cough (lasts for weeks)
  • Coughing up mucus, phlegm or blood
  • Cough that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medication, like cough suppressants

You need evaluation if you have a cough along with these symptoms:

How Can an Urgent Care Provider Help Me?

Urgent care providers can give recommendations to help relieve symptoms and get you feeling better faster. 

“We provide recommendations that help you achieve the best results and possibly get rid of the cough sooner,” Dr. Even explains. “Your care may include cough suppressants along with other therapies to help you feel better.”

Other reasons to come to urgent care include identifying coughs due to serious medical conditions. These include:

It’s best to get prompt evaluation if a nonstop cough is identified in a child younger than six months old.

Could My Cough Be a Sign of COVID-19?

The early symptoms of COVID-19 can include a dry cough, but if that’s your only symptom, it might not be coronavirus.

“If the cough is accompanied by a fever, fatigue and body aches, consider testing for COVID-19,” Dr. Even explains.

The best way to protect yourself from getting seriously sick from COVID-19 is to get the vaccine.

Preparing for Your Urgent Care Visit

UnityPoint Health makes it easy to fit care into your busy schedule. Our urgent care clinics are available in locations close to home. Before visiting your nearest walk-in care location, it’s a good idea to save your spot online and reduce your time in the waiting room.

During your urgent care visit, our providers will perform a detailed physical exam and ask about your medical history. They may discuss your lifestyle, such as whether you use tobacco or have regular exposure to chemicals.

They’ll also want to know more about your cough, including:

  • How long you’ve had it
  • If you’ve had medical issues, like seasonal allergies, that cause a nonstop cough
  • Whether it gets worse at night or when you’re active
  • What medications or home remedies you’re using
  • Other symptoms you’re experiencing
  • If you’re coughing up mucus

Clinic providers treat patients of all ages, including newborns and older adults.

Easy Access to Cough Relief at UnityPoint Health

Experienced healthcare providers are available at our walk-in care clinics from morning to evening and on holidays.

To get care without leaving home, try virtual urgent care for individuals ages two and up who live in Iowa. It’s available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday. Log-in to your MyUnityPoint account, our patient portal, to schedule your appointment.

You can also get care fast using Smart Exam, an online screening tool for individuals ages two and up who live in Iowa. A diagnosis and treatment plan are provided in less than an hour, helping you to feel better, faster.