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Burps, coughs and ringing in your ears: When to worry, when not to

We don't really enjoy the sounds of burping, belching and coughing, but it's important to know when they are serious enough to call the doctor.
/ Source: TODAY

We don’t really enjoy the sounds of burping, belching and coughing, but it's important to know when these bodily noises are serious enough to call the doctor.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar, an NBC News medical contributor explained these less-than-mellifluous sounds.

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Whooping Cough or Croup?

Whooping cough is marked by uncontrollable fits of coughing, followed by a whooping-type of wheeze when you try to take a deep breath. It can affect anyone, but can be very serious, even fatal, in young children under age 1, she said. This highly contagious respiratory disease is caused by the bacteria pertussis, and is preventable by vaccine. See your doctor immediately if your child has this cough.

“This is really important in the fall and winter season,” Azar said. “I think lot of parents, when they have young children, they don’t know the difference between what does a whooping cough sound like and what does croup sound like.”

Croup, which is caused by a viral infection and does not require antibiotics, is marked by a loud, high-pitched, barking cough. It is less serious than whooping cough and can often be treated at home.

Ringing in the Ears

One of the most common reasons people have ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, is age. “People over the age of 60 can develop this,” Azar said.

When to be concerned: If the ringing lasts for a prolonged period of time, or is associated with pain, vertigo (when it feels like the room is spinning), dizziness or hearing loss, you should see your doctor.


Burping or belching is either voluntary or involuntary, and is the release of air from your stomach. Some common causes are various ways that air gets in your mouth, like chewing with your mouth open, smoking or talking a lot.

When to be concerned: “Sometimes people who have underlying acid reflux can belch quite a bit, and also people who have underlying gastritis or inflammation of the stomach, or h pylori, which is a bacteria that causes ulcers, can have belching and should be evaluated,” Azar said.

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This is a high-pitched, whistling-type sound that often occurs when we’re exhaling.

When to be concerned: “One of the most common causes of this would be asthma as well as an allergic reaction or even something obstructing your airway,” Azar said, and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.