More Than Just a Cough: 5 Signs It’s Time to See a Pulmonologist

“Can this persistent cough be treated by my primary care provider?”

If this is a question you’ve been asking yourself recently, we’re here to help. Most uncomplicated cases can be diagnosed and treated by one’s primary care provider – however, there are cases where a pulmonary care specialist should be consulted.

Here are 5 signs it’s time to schedule an appointment with a pulmonary specialist:

Experiencing shortness of breath, especially during physical activity

If you find yourself struggling to breathe after exerting yourself, there may be an underlying condition that should be treated by a pulmonary care professional. Asthma, COPD, COPD with Chronic Bronchitis, and Interstitial Lung Disease are all respiratory diseases that make it much harder to breathe. While a primary care provider can screen, diagnose, and treat minimal cases, a pulmonary specialist can provide a quick assessment and set you on the path to recovery if symptoms persist.

Chest tightness

Chest tightness is a symptom that concerns many, as it can be a sign of a life-threatening emergency, such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. If chest tightness is experienced along with difficulty breathing, sweating, or nausea, it is important to seek medical help right away. While this symptom can be a sign of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, it is also a common symptom of Asthma and COPD.

You have a long-term history of smoking

Smoking can destroy the alveoli in your lungs, which are the air sacs that exchange carbon dioxide with oxygen. The longer you smoke, the higher your risk of depleting these air sacs which makes it much harder to breathe. You may eventually develop COPD, Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema, or Lung Cancer.

Smokers have a much higher risk of developing respiratory diseases, so it is important to see a pulmonary doctor who will keep an eye on your lung health and spot symptoms early.

Swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs

While swelling in your legs may seem unrelated to your respiratory health, you should seek an evaluation if you experience such symptoms along with breathing problems. These symptoms could indicate Pulmonary Hypertension (the accumulation of fluid in your lungs) or Pulmonary Edema (high blood pressure in the arteries in your lungs).

You have Asthma

Asthma is a medical condition that causes difficulty breathing due to the narrowing and inflammation of the airways in your lungs. Asthma can cause cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness. Your symptoms could be ranging from mild to severe, depending on how controlled your asthma is. 

“Asthma attacks” occur when you develop a relatively sudden worsening of your asthma symptoms. These attacks can be fatal, although that is rare to happen. If you have severe asthma, it is recommended that you see a pulmonary specialist who will develop an asthma action plan. Asthma action plans determine which medications to take on the daily, which medications to take if your symptoms get worse, and when to seek help or call 911. 

If your persistent cough is accompanied by any of the above symptoms, we recommend scheduling an appointment with one of our pulmonary specialists. The sooner a cause is determined, the sooner we can help you get on the path to treatment and recovery.