General Practitioner

Medicspot GP Dr Sufian Ali explain what's causing your cough?

Coughing is a natural reflux that helps keep your airways clear. In this post, we’ll be taking a look at some of the common causes of a lingering cough. While having a cough is quite normal and usually nothing to worry about, you should see a GP if you’ve had a cough for longer than three weeks.

Could it be cold or flu?

Have you experienced cold or flu-like symptoms recently? This could be the source of your pesky cough. A cough is a symptom of a cold which can persist after other symptoms have passed. This cough could be dry or chesty. Chesty coughs are characterised by the phlegm you produce when you cough. Other cold symptoms include sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat. Coughs are also a common symptom of the flu. The difference between a cold and the flu, however, is that contracting the flu is more abrupt and symptoms can also include aches, fever, chills and headaches.

Could it be a chest infection?

A persistent cough can be a tell-tale sign of a chest infection. Chest infections are a form of respiratory infections that affect the windpipe and lungs. They are caused by an inflammation in the lungs which results in a build-up of fluid and mucus. The main types of chest infections are bronchitis and pneumonia. Besides a persistent cough, other symptoms can include breathlessness, chest pains, rapid heartbeat and fever. For more information about the signs and symptoms of a chest infection, I’ve written an in-depth chest infection guide for Medicspot.

Could it be smoking?

Amongst other consequences of continuous tobacco use is the development of a ‘smoker’s cough’. Long-term smoking can damage your cilia – the tiny hair-like structures that help clear toxins out of your body.  This results in a build-up of toxins and mucus, causing a persistent cough. If you are a smoker, you can spot ‘smoker’s cough’ if it lasts more than 3 weeks. Quitting smoking won’t just clear up your cough, it can also have a wide range of health benefits. Speak with your pharmacist for helpful advice on how you can kick the habit.

Could it be asthma?

The root of your cough could be asthma, a chronic condition that affects as many as 5.4 million people in the UK. Asthma can cause breathing difficulties when the airway constricts due to triggers like exercise, cold air, allergens and infections. Triggers can vary depending on the individual. Frequent and non-productive coughing – especially at night – could be a sign of asthma. For more signs and symptoms of asthma, you can read my asthma guide for Medicspot.

Could it be tonsillitis?

Is your cough accompanied by a sore throat, fever and trouble swallowing? Tonsillitis could be to blame. Tonsillitis can be a viral or bacterial infection that leads to the inflammation of the tonsils. A myriad of symptoms, including coughing and a sore throat, can be caused by tonsilitis. Having a sore throat in the absence of a cough however, actually makes the diagnosis of bacterial tonsillitis more likely. If your sore throat persists for more than 48 hours, it is recommended to see your GP. For more information on tonsillitis, Dr Yogeswaran has written a tonsillitis guide which covers everything from signs and symptoms to treatment and prevention.

Could it be laryngitis?

If you feel like you’re losing your voice, laryngitis could be causing your cough. Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx or voice box that causes the throat to be irritated and swollen. It can come on suddenly following a cold, overexertion of the vocal cords, smoking, gastroesophageal reflux disease or throat infection. A persistent, irritating cough is characteristic of laryngitis. Other symptoms include: a hoarse or lost voice, sore throat and pain when swallowing. Dr Faiza Khalid has written a helpful laryngitis guide to help you better understand the signs, symptoms and prevention methods.

Coughing can also be caused by a number of other health conditions that aren’t listed here. If you have been coughing for three weeks or more, you should speak with a GP.


Dr Sufian Ali

Dr Sufian Ali is a Medicspot GP based in the West of Scotland, having attended Aberdeen Medical School and completed his GP training in Glasgow. He has enjoyed working in a number of specialities including paediatrics, psychiatry and emergency medicine; while also working in a variety of settings including prisons, remote Scottish islands and Singapore, with Raffles Medical Group. He finds it important to find time to volunteer, he has led and been involved in many volunteer events including national CPR training, mental health workshops, the Special Olympics and medical relief work in developing countries. This varied experience gives him the ability to provide a more holistic and patient centred approach to the care of his patients. He sees medical technology and innovation as the solution to some of the gaps and inefficiencies in primary healthcare provision. He is passionate about using and assisting in the development of digital health to improve patient care.

4 Responses to What’s causing your cough?

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