When Should I See a Pulmonologist for a Cough?

young man coughing

A pulmonologist is a medical specialist who focuses on conditions that impact the respiratory system, which includes the lungs, airways, windpipe, voice box, throat, mouth and nose. Individuals who experience chronic or severe coughing may consider speaking with a pulmonologist about their treatment options and what’s to blame for their symptoms—especially if they smoke or have a family history of lung disease.

Coughing isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s how the body expels germs and irritants like dust and mucus. Occasional coughing is normal and healthy. However, you should speak with your primary care physician if your cough:

  • Produces green or yellow mucus
  • Is accompanied by a fever
  • Causes shortness of breath
  • Persists for more than a few weeks
  • Is accompanied by wheezing
  • Is accompanied by weight loss or ankle swelling

Visiting your primary care physician is the first step toward treating a bothersome cough. Depending on your symptoms and other factors—such as your age, overall health and risk factors for other conditions—your physician may then refer you to a pulmonologist for more advanced care. For example, a patient with a cough that becomes severe or lasts for more than three weeks despite initial treatment may be referred to a pulmonologist for further evaluation.

Other Reasons to See a Pulmonologist

A stubborn cough isn’t the only reason why a primary care physician might refer a patient to a pulmonologist. Other symptoms that may necessitate specialized pulmonary care include:

  • Difficulty breathing normally, especially during physical activity
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Recurrent bronchitis
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Uncontrolled asthma, or asthma with unknown triggers
  • Complications from smoking

When to Call 911 for a Cough

In rare cases, a cough may be a sign of a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you or someone around you:

  • Has a cough with severe chest pain
  • Coughs up blood or bloody mucus
  • Has difficulty swallowing or breathing

Pulmonology at Tufts Medical Center Community Care

In non-emergency scenarios, Tufts Medical Center Community Care is an excellent place to turn for specialized lung health services. Our growing team includes pulmonologists and primary care physicians who collaborate to deliver world-class care to patients throughout north suburban Boston. From leading-edge respiratory procedures and diagnostics to patient education and smoking cessation programs, Tufts Medical Center Community Care offers comprehensive pulmonary services to help patients breathe easier.

If you’d like to consult with a primary care physician about your cough or another respiratory issue, contact Tufts Medical Center Community Care today or schedule an appointment on our website. If you’re interested in speaking with a pulmonologist, please call 781-979-6222 to learn about our pulmonary services and the referral process. Our team is here to answer any questions you may have and can direct you to the best clinician for your needs. Most health insurance plans are accepted at our practice, including Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare.

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