Coughs 

Watch how a GP describes the most common causes of coughs and how they can be treated.

Learn more about coughs

Transcript of Coughs

Hello, I'm Dr Rupal Shah.

I'm a GP at the Bridge Lane Group Practice in Battersea in London.

Coughs are incredibly common.

It's one of the most common reasons for people to come and see their GP.

Coughs are usually caused by an infection,

whether that's a virus or a bacteria.

They can be caused by other things as well,

for example in adults occasionally acid reflux can cause a chronic cough.

A cough is usually a symptom of an infection.

That could be an infection of your upper airways,

or in more serious cases it could be a chest infection, so a pneumonia.

If the cough is a symptom of an upper airways infection,

then usually you're not too ill in yourself.

You might not have a high fever,

you might feel reasonably OK in yourself,

but the cough might be the main presenting symptom.

In cases of pneumonia, usually you feel much more unwell.

You might have a high fever, generally just feel awful,

headaches, muscle aches.

You might be coughing up coloured phlegm,

although that can happen in upper airways infections as well.

It matters very little, actually,

whether the cough is dry or tickly or all these other things,

and there's no really good evidence

that any of the cough syrups you can buy over the counter do very much.

More importantly is how you're feeling in yourself,

so if you feel really awful and you do have the high fever and the headaches,

then it might be worth seeking medical advice

to make sure the infection hasn't gone down into your lungs.

If your cough is caused by a virus, you may well have other symptoms,

for example a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, all the usual things.

If you do have many symptoms like that,

then it's more likely that you've got a virus than a bacteria,

and we can only treat bacterial illnesses with antibiotics.

Coughs usually last for two to three weeks on average,

so that's longer than most people expect.

If a cough is more persistent than about three weeks,

I think it's worth getting a medical opinion as to why.

If you've got a history of lung disease,

for example if you've got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

or bad asthma,

it's worth seeing your GP.

If you're a parent and you're worried your child isn't well in themselves,

if they seem to be breathing more quickly than usual,

if they seem to be a bit more lethargic than usual, anything like that,

then it's definitely worth seeing your GP.

On the other hand, if it's just that the cough isn't too bad in itself

but it doesn't seem to be getting better after several weeks,

again it's worth seeing your GP, especially if you're a smoker.

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