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Coughing occurs as a reflex action that clears irritants, mucus and allergens, such as pollen, smoke or dust from your airways.

A cough can be chronic if it lasts longer than one month for children and two months for adults. Chronic coughs can be discomforting, especially if coughing interferes with your night’s sleep. Repeated coughing can also be exhausting and may cause vomiting, fractured ribs and dizziness in extreme cases.

What causes coughing?

An acute (short-term) cough usually results from an upper respiratory tract infection, like the flu or a cold.

Coughing may also result from:

  • A flare-up of a condition affecting the airways which may trigger a dry cough
  • A lower respiratory tract infection, like pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Childhood illnesses such as croup and whooping cough
  • An allergy from pollen (hay fever) or pet dander, which may trigger a dry cough
  • Irritation by smoke or dust, including cigarette smoke

A chronic, persistent cough is when the coughing lasts for eight weeks or longer. This may result from:

  • Postnasal drip – when mucus from the nose trickles down the throat
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – frequent heartburn that causes coughing.
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Side effects of cardiovascular disease and blood pressure medications.

In a few cases, persistent coughing is one symptom of a serious health issue, like heart failure or lung cancer.

Diagnosis for coughing

While coughing isn’t always harmful, see your GP as soon as you can if you also:

  • Cough up blood
  • Have night sweats
  • Unintentionally lose weight
  • Experience bouts of breathlessness

You should also see your GP if your coughing has lasted more than three weeks without any improvement. Your GP will want to know how long you’ve had the cough, the severity and frequency of your coughing and other symptoms you experience. Your GP may also take a sample of mucus to check for infections.

If the GP suspects an underlying issue, they may refer you for further investigations, such as:

  • An X-ray or CT scan – to check your lungs
  • Lung function test – to check your breathing
  • Rhinoscopy – to examine the nasal passages using a small camera fitted to a thin, flexible tube
  • Bronchoscopy – to examine the airways and lungs using a small camera fitted to a thin, flexible tube

You may also get a referral to a consultant, like a gastroenterologist or an ear, nose and throat consultant.

Treatment for coughing

Simple cough remedies can relieve an acute cough. Resting and the following will help.

  • Avoid smoking or dusty areas
  • Take lozenges to soothe a dry cough or irritation in your throat
  • Take OTC pain medication such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, if necessary
  • Drink lots of fluid, including hot lemon and honey (this remedy isn’t suitable for babies)

If you have an underlying condition causing chronic coughing, your doctor will recommend treatment depending on your diagnosis.

This may involve the following.

  • Antacids to reduce stomach acid if you have GORD
  • Antibiotics for infection
  • Antihistamines for allergy

Your doctor may also recommend changing a medication if they believe it is causing your cough. If coughing is linked to smoking cigarettes, the doctor will advise quitting smoking.

In most cases, coughing has no serious underlying cause, but it is best to visit a doctor to evaluate your condition and give an accurate diagnosis, especially if the coughing is chronic, persistent, or you cough up blood.

Call Medical Express Clinic today on 0207 499 1991 to book an appointment with our doctor if you are coughing.