Updated 03 August 2014

Questions asked to diagnose coughs

Various questions must be asked of all patients seeking treatment for cough.


Various questions must be asked of all patients seeking treatment for cough. These include:

  • Who is the patient? Adult or child?
  • What type of cough is it? Wet or dry?
  • When did the cough start?     
  • Is there any mucus? What colour is it?•   
  • Are there any other medical conditions present? Asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure?          
  • Is the patient on any medication?   
  • Does the patient smoke?

Once the symptoms have been evaluated, medications and other conditions taken into consideration, a treatment course may be decided. The patient must be referred to the pharmacist if any other conditions exist. A history of co- existing symptoms such as asthma, postnasal drip or GORD may assist in treatment selection.

If the patient has been treated for hypertension with an ACE inhibitor they should be referred back to their doctor for possible treatment alteration.

A doctor must be consulted if any ‘red flag’ symptoms are present. 


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others. Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.

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