Hello, I'm Dr Rupal Shah

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.