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I Have This Cough?

I Have This Cough…
I Have This Cough?

What is a cough? A cough is reflex to clear your airways of mucus and irritants like smoke or dust. It is usually not anything serious.

When it’s tickly and doesn’t produce any phlegm it is called a dry cough. A “chesty cough” produces phlegm to help to clear the airways.

Coughs usually clear up within 3-4 weeks without treatment. If your cough is not better after 3-4 weeks you should see your GP who can investigate the cause.

What can cause a cough?

Acute coughs

Common causes:

  • an infection of the upper airways that affects the throat, windpipe or sinuses
  • infection of the lower airways (bronchitis and pneumonia for example)
  • an allergy
  • a flare-up of a long-term condition like asthma
  • inhaled dust or smoke

Chronic coughs (persistent)

  • a long-term infection of the airways like chronic bronchitis
  • asthma, this usually comes with wheezing, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath
  • an allergy
  • smoking
  • postnasal drip – mucus dripping down the throat
  • reflux where the throat becomes irritated stomach acid
  • medication like an ACE inhibitor to treat high blood pressure

In a few cases it can be a sign of something more serious like tuberculosis, lung cancer or even heart failure or a clot in the airways (embolism)

Coughs in children

More common causes for a cough in children include:

  • bronchiolitis – an infection that causes cold-like symptoms
  • croup – a barking cough and a harsh sound when the child breathes in
  • whooping cough – hacking bouts of coughing
When to see your GP

When your child just has cough with no other symptoms for a few days there is no need to see your GP. This is especially true if they are active and behaving normally. However, you should see your trusted medical practitioner if:

  • you’ve had a cough for more than three weeks
  • your cough is severe or getting worse
  • you cough up blood or you become short of breath.
  • you have other symptoms, such as weight loss, a change in your voice, or swellings in your neck
  • you might need a Chest X ray (after weeks of coughing) or an allergy test.
How to treat?

It is most likely caused by a viral infection so medication is not really necessary for mild, acute coughs. You can look after yourself at home by resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Cough medicines and remedies

Usually medicine that can suppress your cough or reduce your phlegm are not recommended, but some people find them helpful. Cough mixtures for children under 6 years old are also not recommended. Older kids should only use them after a discussion with the GP.

A homemade remedy containing honey and lemon is likely to be just as useful and safer to take. Honey shouldn’t be given to babies under the age of one.

Treating any underlying cause

If your cough was caused by another condition, it should be treated:

  • Asthma benefits from steroids to reduce inflammation in the airways
  • Allergies can be treated by anti-histamines or by avoiding the things you’re allergic to. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Reflux (acid) can be treated with tablets or liquids that neutralize the stomach acid or reduce the acid production.
  • An obstructive airways disease can be treated with inhalers that widen your airways.
  • Stop smoking
  • Talk to your trusted medical practitioner if you have any concerns. You may contact Good Practice Clinic if you have any further questions.

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