Updated 24 August 2017

Diagnosing a cough

Your doctor will identify the type of cough you have, as well as other related symptoms you may be suffering from.


To get rid of a cough, it is important to first find its cause. The type of cough, the duration of the cough and associated symptoms might give an indication to what the cause might be. Most coughs, usually caused by viral infections, will clear by themselves, but it is important to have your cough examined by a doctor when it is persistent. Various special investigations can be done to determine the cause of a cough.  The following is a condensed overview on the approach your doctor might use:

All diagnostic approaches start with full history taking and physical examination.

Acute Coughs:


Chronic coughs:


Clinical examination usually gives a very clear indication of the cause of the cough. Special investigation will be considered by your doctor if the cause of the cough remains unclear, or to support a diagnosis.

Read more:

What is a cough?

Causes of a cough

Image: Coughing woman with doctor from Shutterstock


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Cough Expert

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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