Cough 

Introduction 

Coughs

Watch as a GP describes the most common causes for coughs and how they can be treated

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 22/11/2015

Cough in children

If your child has a bad cough that won't go away, see your GP. A persistent cough may be a sign of a more serious respiratory tract infection.

It is also important to be aware of the symptoms of whooping cough, especially in young children and babies.

Symptoms of whooping cough include:

  • intense, hacking bouts of coughing, which bring up thick phlegm
  • a 'whoop' sound with each sharp intake of breath after coughing
  • vomiting in infants and young children
  • fatigue and redness in the face from the effort of coughing

Read more about whooping cough.

A cough is a reflex action to clear your airways of mucus and irritants such as dust or smoke.

Coughs may be dry or chesty (see below) and most coughs clear up within three weeks.

Treatment isn't usually necessary, but a home remedy containing honey and lemon may help ease a short-term cough.

There's little evidence to suggest that cough medicines will be any more effective.

Read more about cough treatments.

Dry or chesty cough?

Dry coughs are usually felt in the throat as a tickle that sets off the coughing.

It happens when the throat and upper airways become inflamed (swollen). No phlegm (thick mucus) is produced.

The common cold or flu causes a dry cough because your brain thinks the inflammation in your throat and upper airways is a foreign object and tries to remove it by coughing.

A chesty cough usually produces phlegm. The cough is helpful, because it clears the phlegm from your lung passages.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you've had a cough for more than three weeks after a viral infection, or if your cough is progressively getting worse.

If you experience breathing difficulties, chest pain or you cough up blood, speak to your GP immediately.

If your GP is unsure what's causing your cough they may refer you to a respiratory specialist. They may also request some tests, including:

  • a chest X-ray - to see if you have a chest infection
  • taking a sample of your phlegm for analysis - to help decide if antibiotics should be prescribed
  • spirometry (breathing in and out of a tube connected to a machine) - to see if you have an underlying respiratory condition
  • allergy testing - to see whether your cough is caused by something you're allergic to, such as house dust mites

What causes a cough?

Most people with a cough have a respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. Possible non-infectious causes include:

In rare cases it may be the first sign of a condition causing a long-term cough.

Read more about the causes of a cough.

 



Page last reviewed: 20/06/2013

Next review due: 20/06/2015

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Comments

The 21 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Woola56 said on 20 February 2014

I would like to see a reference to Whooping Cough in tehmain body of the script.

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mcintyre17 said on 23 October 2013

IM an asthmatic,started over week ago with sore throat flu symptoms,then dry wheezy cough, now getting worse coughing all the time day and night for over 5 days now, and tried everything,chest xray clear, and going to doctor today to get something, as I cant sleep at all,and head bursts with each cough, and cant afford to stay off work much longer,and I either wet myself or bring up bile with most coughing fits I have as my cough is that strong, im coughing every ten mins and its killing me,and lost my voice last week for few days, doc said it maybe laringytis caused by virus?

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Lainey40 said on 17 August 2013

Tannauk, if you are looking for advice, I think you should take your doctor's advice and go and get a chest x-ray. Hopefully, as you are young and do not smoke heavily, you have not got lung cancer - but if you don't want to get it in the future, you should also give up smoking!

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tannauk said on 13 August 2013

Hello. This thread is probably past it by now, but I thought I would share my concerns. I had a really bad, when I mean really bad, the worst type of chest infection in around February 2013 time. I was off from work for 2 weeks, visited the doctor and had anti biotics given to me. I work in a school so I assume its something I caught from there. Since finishing the anti biotics course over 5 months ago, I have still got a cough - not an ordinary cough, but one which makes me very short of breath (I have coughing fits throughout the day, sometimes uncontrollable) which makes me literally gasp for breath (cant talk or do anything whilst this is happening). In recent weeks, I have also vomited quite badly - few days back, I vomited in my car whilst driving which was quite dangerous. I am a smoker, but not a heavy smoker, and have been smoking for over 7 years now. I called my doctor again and he advised me to go to the hospital to get a chest x ray - I am extremely worried and at 25 years old, fearing that it could be lung cancer. I am still releasing some yellow phlegm, but nothing major (no blood). I have tried various remedies, including honey, throat sweets etc. Any advice? I first thought it was 'whooping cough' due to my symptons, but not sure now. What would be the best thing to do?

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mich919 said on 11 March 2013

I have had a cough now since middle of December 2012..... All signs and symptoms were as if I had whooping cough, I was coughing for about 5 mins , loosing my breath, vomiting then having to rest for a few mins to recover, water was streaming down my eyes. I was diagnosed WC end of Jan n bloods were taken but came back negative for WC as did a xray on chest which was clear. Unfortunatly I am still coughing now which is set off by eating, laughing, cold air and even sneezing. I have a few coughing fits a day but the rest off the day I don't cough at all. I did have a sinus infection in Feb which was treated wi antibiotics ....... The cough is so embarresing when it does happen ....I think the docs r baffled as t what it is but ive been left t give it time t see if it settles .... Its awful..... Ive felt very weak in myself the whole time ive had this cough .... Even going dizzy when I try to do anything like go shopping etc. I just don't know what to do now xxxx

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CC94 said on 04 March 2013

I do not know what to do, A few months ago I had a virus, which I got a left over dry, horrible constant cough, which I was coughing up mucus and it lasted up to two months, which by then I went to see my doctor, they prescribed me to these tablets and by taking the third tablet the cough had gone. Now a few months after, I haven't had a virus or any illness at all but I have the same cough. I was just wondering what I should do? Any advice would be helpful.

Thanks.

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meganoscar1 said on 15 December 2012

Many of the coughs that are being described sound like whooping cough. I caught this nasty disease 10 weeks ago and I am still coughing. It started with a sore throat, very runny nose and tickly cough. After 10 days the cough got much worse to the point of coughing until I could not breathe and was vomiting white foam. My G.P quickly diagnosed whooping cough and gave me antibiotics but only so I did not infect others, there is no cure for whooping cough. After nearly 3 months of being at the end of my tether with lack of sleep, extreme exhaustion, burst blood vessel in my eye from coughing the only things that I found give any degree of relief are codeine linctus as advised by my doctor and the acute and long term steroid inhalers he gave me. Sadly it is a long drawn out illness that you just have to endure and beware if you feel you've turned the corner and then catch a cold bam the cough is back! My thoughts go out to all fellow sufferers take care!

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meganoscar1 said on 15 December 2012

What many of you are describing above sounds very much like whooping cough. I caught this nasty disease 10 weeks ago starting with a sore throat, very runny nose and tickly cough. After 10 days the cough got much worse with coughing fits where I could not breathe and then vomited up white foam. My G.P quickly diagnosed whooping cough and gave me anitbiotics but these are only to stop you infecting others there is no cure for whooping cough. I have been at the end of my tether for nearly 3 months now with lack of sleep, extreme exhaustion, burst blood vessel in my eye from coughing. The only things that have brought some relief are taking codeine linctus as advised by my G.P and a long acting and acute steroid inhaler. Sadly it is a long drawn out recovery from this illness and my thoughts are with all fellow sufferers. As adults immunity wanes think the NHS should look at booster shots as was last vaccinated when I was a child, this could avoid these type of outbreaks every 3-4 years.

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geekgirl101 said on 23 September 2012

My husband went away at the last weekend in August to a big festival in Cheltenham, must've been over 15,000 people there roughing it out in tents for several days in the mud from all the rain. A week after returning he began coughing and feeling generally unwell. He developed headaches, temperature, and was waking up persistently in the night having coughing fits or vomitting. He also had a slight runny nose. He went off eating for a few days.

A few days ago I began to start coughing. I can describe the cough as being an irritating cough often brought on by tickling in the back of the throat or agitated by small amounts of fluid rattling in the chest. I've brought up only small amounts of sticky green phlem.

I've felt extremely nauseaus and been running temperatures also and drinking cough remedies to help bring it back to normal. I feel like I've eaten massive amounts of food.

I'm slightly gassy. Sometimes burping I feel a fizzing sensation in my stomach, as if something is fermenting in there. My breath smells yeasty sometimes. On the first day I was sensing the smell and taste of stale cigarettes in the air, even though neither of us nor our neighbours smoke, and that set me off coughing psychologically thinking the air is smoky. My flatulence has been extremely smelly, smelling of rotten eggs.

My throat and chest are incredibly sore. Coughing has caused my chest and throat to burn inside and feels like I been punched in the chest. I've coughed so much that I've lost my voice on occassion and felt like I was going to pass out.

My nose has only felt slightly runny and that was just for a day.

My sleep pattern has been disturbed so much I'm suffering severe headaches and neck pain.

Some remedies have given some relief. They don't make the problem go away but they make it easier if just for a small time

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JPR said on 22 September 2012

I had all of the above for 7 weeks and still have cough.
Went to the doctors 3 times and finally diagnosed with whooping cough.
Please suggest this to your GP.
Try and get it diagnosed within 2 weeks.
Research whooping cough in adults and read for yourself.

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daisyscott said on 19 September 2012

I have had a very productive chesty cough for over 3 weeks, been prescribed 5 lots of antibiotics and on second lot of steriods.
Chest X ray is normal.
Really struggling as nights are terrible, sleep sitting up mostly bringing up lots of white phlegm which is rattling around my chest all the time.
Been off work for a while but getting worried as all these drugs and no better, coughing bouts last about a minute and I am gasping for air, rarely leave the house as embarrassing bur also scarry.
Feel generally unwell which could be due to all the drugs - doing all the usual things like steam inhalation taking over the counter meds to relieve symptons.
Throat and tracchia hurt lots burn mainly when I cough, I am also taking omeprazole to reduce acid reflux to help with the burning.
Granddaughter is only 5 months has some of the symptoms and started coughing first so think I picked this up from her. Docs have given her nothing.

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daisyscott said on 19 September 2012

I have had a very productive chesty cough for over 3 weeks, been prescribed 5 lots of antibiotics and on second lot of steriods.
Chest X ray is normal.

I am really struggling as nights are terrible, sleep sitting up mostly bringing up lots of white phlegm which is rattling around my chest all the time.

Been off work for a while but getting worried as all these drugs and no better, coughing bouts last about a minute and I am gasping for air, rarely leave the house as embarrassing bur also scarry.

Feel generally unwell which could now be due to all the drugs - doing all the usual things like steam inhalation etc and taking over the counter meds to relieve symptons.
Throught and tracchia hurt lots burn mainly when I cough, I am also taking omeprazole to reduce acid reflux to help with the burning in my throught.

Grandaughter who is only 5 months has some of the symptons and started coughing first so think I picked this up from her. Docs have given her nothing.

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daisyscott said on 19 September 2012

I have had a very deep productive cough for over 3 weeks now, exhausted as sleep is disturbed at night from coughing, docs have prescribed 5 lots of antibiotics and 2 lots of sterioids so far.
Coughing bouts last say 1 minute and I am gasping for air. Although my lungs are clear i have a constant rattle in my upper chest - tracchia which is the phlegm.
Chest x ray normal
Have lots of white phlegm coming up day and night, not really getting any better.

Been on and off work but starting to get worried as it will be a problem soon if i can't get back properly.
Feel generally unwell - might be from all the drugs though.
Doing all the usual things like inhaling steam, resting, taking over the counter meds to releive symptons nothing working.
Worried about all the antibiotics I am taking as well,
I think this could be a virus, my grandaughter who is only just 5 months has similar symptons and she was coughing first so I think I might have caught it from her.

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LindyandBilly said on 27 August 2012

My husband has had a viral cough for 4 weeks, last week went to doctors to be informed he had developed chest infection.

He has just had another coughing fit and blacked out, collapsing to the floor. Cannot determine from web site if this is further cause for concern.

Basic information:-

Age: 66

Viral cough for over 4 weeks. Coughing spasms followed by wheezing and unable to breath. sometimes disorientated. Lack of sleep at night.

Doctor prescribed antibiotics. Whilst sleep has improved 2-3hrs uninterrupted, the cough symptoms still persist but not so often

He is concerned if the problem continues and occurs when driving

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User690034 said on 25 June 2012

I have had a cough like this for over 2 months and have tried everything including steroids. I am at the end of my tether and it is spoiling my life.

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sam2012 said on 28 March 2012

my friend saw the doc and the doc told him it was viral cough.... but even with the medicine... he is still the same.. he coughs heavily at night and he feels cold pretty quickly even at normal temp. should he go see the gp once again or just continue the medication? the medication he is using atm is now around 2 weeks.... any advice on what to do next will be much appreciated.... he doesnt smoke or drink much.. but he uses khuber on a daily basis...

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Belle2011 said on 16 February 2012


Have you been tested for Whooping Cough? If not I ask to be tested sounds like it.

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User644208 said on 12 February 2012

Hi pritpanch28 - What you have described is almost identical to my husband's cough. He started feeling flu symptoms just before Christmas and then developed a productive chesty cough at New Year 2012. This cleared but he has been left with a cough that has caused him to be sick a couple of times. He is also left gasping for breath between coughing and unable to speak for a minute or so... Also wakens him at night. We've tried everything from gargling with TCP to cough medicine and strepsils but nothing seems to make any difference. Would like to try honey as it is a natural throat antiseptic but he doesn't like it so not an option. He was recently on a course where he had no option but to eat late at night and ended up being sick during the night caused by coughing so now wondering if acid reflux may be an issue. Going to the docs next week so hoping an answer can be found. As I said symptoms very similar to yours so you are not alone!

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pritpanch28 said on 26 January 2012

Ive had a cough since 1st Jan 2012, its been just over 3 and a half weeks, and the cough is still on going. Its a type of cough I have never had before...It is not a constant cough throughout the day, more like a spasm or reaction.

I cough to such an extent that white/clear sticky mucus comes out and a little bit of food now and then. I also gasp for air for 1,2 minutes and also cannot speak for 2,3 minutes until the coughing has calmed down. The lower middle of my ribcage feels sore and tight due to the extent of coughing. I also have to wake up middle of the night to cough out the mucus and struggle to breathe slightly. My appetite has also reduced during 2 weeks.

I have done the following things so far:

- Home remedies (Nasal spray, Steam, Salt gargles, mouth wash, Hot water bottle, Warm water, honey, lemon)

- I have had off the counter medication (Cough medicine for Dry cough) - NO IMPROVEMENT.

- Dr prescribed me antibiotics (Doxycycline) and Prednisolone on 7 day course - NO IMPROVEMENT

- Chest X Ray - this was a normal result.

I dont have any flu like symptons like cold, runny nose. I dont smoke. Its just this cough which is irritating and not improving and playing on my mind.

Not sure if an Endoscopy is needed or a inhaler pump.

Was wondering if there was anyone else who has suffered from this type of coughing problem, and what courses of action was taken to get rid of the problem.

Some advice or related comments would be appreciated.

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Doggielover said on 01 November 2010

It's been sooo long since I've had a cold (lucky me) that I'd forgotten how long coughs can last. So this was just the job to stop me going to my GP - or buying costly cough medicines!

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User107726 said on 22 September 2009

i was going to go to the docs with my cough till i read this article it helped a lot

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