Updated 15 August 2018

How common is coughing?

Chronic cough is estimated to affect 7.9% to 9.6% of the global adult population.

Chronic cough is estimated to affect 7.9% to 9.6% of the global adult population.

In a primary-care study, conducted in four South African provinces, nearly 20,000 consultations were evaluated. Over 5,000 consultations were for a respiratory complaint, of which nearly 3,000 consultations were for a cough. This equates to 9% of all GP-type visits.

The reason for coughing can be wide ranging: from a self-limiting viral illness, which will go away on its own without treatment, right through to a life-threatening condition such as lung cancer.

Local healthcare systems are well established to investigate coughs as a result of infectious diseases (e.g. tuberculosis or pneumonia). Other common causes of coughing (e.g. using an ACE-inhibitor for hypertension) occurs in up to 15% of patients.

The three most common causes of coughing are as follows:

The most common global cause for a chronic cough is upper airway cough syndrome (UACS) due to a post-nasal drip, asthma or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis (TB) and pulmonary fibrosis (a rare condition in which the soft, spongy parts of the lungs get very stiff) are other important medical conditions associated with coughing.

Read more:
Causes of couging

Reviewed by Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. MBChB, MRCP(UK), Dip HIV(Man), MMED, FCP(SA), Cert Pulm(SA), PhD. February 2018.


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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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