ATLANTA - If you're coughing, you probably have a virus, like a cold or flu, to blame.
But Dr. Hansa Bhargava, Senior Medical Editor at WebMD, says there are some warning signs you may need to see the doctor about that cough.
"The key is if it's different colors are coming up, it's not a good thing," Dr. Bhargava says. "If it's going on for more than a week, it's not a good thing. And, certainly, if there is a fever, or it's not getting better, that's not a good thing."
All of those are signs you may have developed a secondary bacterial respiratory infection, which may need to be treated with antibiotics.
If your cough is annoying, but probably just a cold, Dr. Bhargava says an over-the-counter cold or cough medication may not offer you much help.
"The American College of Chest Physicians actually came out with a study that looked at a lot of other studies to see if these medicines actually work," Bhargava says. "And the bad news was most of them don't."
If you have a bad cough, Bhargava says stay home, relax, and let your immune system do its job.
"The good news is your body, if it's healthy, will kick it out," she says. "In fact, most viral infections go away in a couple of weeks. But, what you can do in the meantime is really an old-fashioned remedy, which is rest."
Try to get 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night, and nap during the daytime, if you can.
And Bhargava says, push fluids.
Experts recommend drinking about a cup of water every hour, and avoiding caffeinated beverages like sodas or coffee, which can dry you out.
"Hydration seems to be kind of a magic pill," Bhargava says. "That's how the human body fights off things. Has there been a lot of researcher on it? No. But it's been used thousands of years."
As a pediatrician, Dr. Bhargava's go-to recommendation for a cough is honey.
But it's only safe to use in children over the age of 1, she cautions.
"The thicker the honey, the better it is," Bhargava says. "Researchers feel the thicker the honey, the more it helps. Get darker-colored, amber honey that is thicker and then gives one teaspoon at night before the child goes to sleep."
You could also combine hot tea with honey to relax your throat.
For children, Dr. Bhargava recommends using a cool mist humidifier.
For grownups, a nice hot shower may be just what you need to temporarily ease that cough.
Hang in there. It will get better.