When should I go to the emergency room (ER) for a cough?

Coughs are typically not life threatening, but if your immune system is compromised with another illness or the cough is accompanied by any of the symptoms below, you may want to go to your closest emergency room (ER) to get checked out.

  • shortness of breath
  • high fever
  • coughing up blood
  • inability to swallow
  • muffled voice
  • swelling on one side of throat
  • chest pain

You may need to go to the emergency room if your cough is so bad that you have trouble catching your breath. Always get emergency medical help if you have severe shortness of breath.

You might also need to go to the emergency room if you have a cough with these symptoms:

  • high fever
  • throat closing
  • chest pain
  • swallowed or breathed in a solid object

You should go to the emergency room (ER) for a cough if you have symptoms that might indicate pneumonia. If you have a nagging cough for more than a week, fever, body aches, chills, and you have comorbidities such as diabetes and blood pressure issues or older age, then pneumonia would be a concern. Coming to the ER would definitely be warranted.

The vast majority of coughs are caused by viral upper respiratory infections, which don't respond to antibiotics. If you have been coughing for a day or two, with no fever and no real symptoms except the cough, and you're a young healthy person, your cough will probably just run its course and go away on its own.

Call 911 or go to the hospital emergency room for:
  • A baby who can't eat, drink, or cry because of coughing
  • Trouble speaking more than 4 or 5 words at a time because of coughing
  • Chest pain that goes up to the neck, arm, or jaw
  • Passing out
  • A lot of trouble breathing
  • Coughing up blood or pink, foamy mucus
These may be signs of a serious problem. Get medical help right away!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.