24 August 2018

Struggling with a cough? Take this checklist to your doctor

We take a look at the different types of coughs and what they mean... even the fake ones.

A cough now and then is normal. Coughing helps the body get rid of throat irritants, which may include food, phlegm, mucus or a foreign object.

However, when a coughs persists, you might be dealing with a bigger problem and you may need to visit a doctor. 

According to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, a cough can be described as chronic when it lasts longer than three to eight weeks. Using our cough checklist can help you determine just how serious your cough is. 

Click here to access the checklist. 

Cough categories

Your cough can be categorised into five different groups:

  • A dry, non-productive cough is characterised by no or very little mucus.
  • A loose, productive cough has a lot of mucus present which is usually coughed up.
  • A tight cough relates to a dry cough in the chest area. Tightness in the chest triggers coughing.
  • A spasmodic cough, as the name suggests, is a cough that occurs in spasms. This may be due to a chest infection. These coughs can be painful and may be linked to bronchitis and croup.
  • An irritation cough is most often caused by the irritation of postnasal drip.

Expert advice

When trying to decide whether or not your cough may be a symptom of a bigger problem, it’s best to consult your doctor. According to Health24 expert, Dr Heidi van Deventer, “The first thing we look for is the duration of the cough, because this will immediately give one an indication of what illness to think of. Then one will want to know if it is a dry cough or a productive cough with lots of phlegm; this will also steer you in the direction of a diagnosis.”

A cough can be a symptom of flu, chest infection/inflammation, allergies, whooping cough or asthma.

Dr van Deventer adds, “Any cough that continues for more than two weeks needs to be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly as this could indicate a more serious disease.”

As serious as some coughs may be, there are some of us who try to fake a cough to our GP in an attempt to get a day off.  Depending on how good you are, you may get away with it, but most of the time, your doctor will be able to spot the pretence.

“A 'fake' cough is usually very dry and can be done very effectively on demand – but if you are truly coughing, it is mostly involuntary and not produced on demand,” says Dr van Deventer.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

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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The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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