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I’m a GP – here’s 5 reasons you can’t shift a cough – and when it’s an emergency

COUGHS have been a hot topic for the best part of the last two years.

Back in 2020, when Covid became a household name and before testing was readily available, people were analysing every inch of their new coughs in a way they hadn’t before.

The most serious possible cause of a persistent cough is lung cancer

Is it dry? Is it wet? Does it sound chesty? Does this cough suggest I could have coronavirus?

But it’s important to bear in mind coughs can also suggest several other illnesses which are, in many cases, just as important to diagnose and treat as Covid.

We spoke to GP and TV doctor, Dr Rachel Ward from Woodlands Medical Centre, Didcot, about what other health conditions your cough could be linked it.

1. Lung cancer

The most serious possible cause of a persistent cough is lung cancer.

“If you’ve had a new cough for more than three weeks you should contact your GP for assessment,” Dr Rachel said.

“They may send you for a chest xray or other tests to see why you have the cough.

“In the majority of cases it will a treatable less serious condition but like all cancers, the sooner it is detected, the higher chance it can be treated,” she added.

“Other symptoms of lung cancer include coughing up blood, pain in the chest, shortness of breath, weight loss, tiredness and loss of appetite,” she said.

2. Chest infection or pneumonia 

Viral coughs are very common at this time of year and will generally clear by themselves, Dr Rachel said.

“However if you are experiencing fevers, shortness of breath, pain in your chest when you breath or coughing up green sputum, you may have a bacterial chest infection or pneumonia.

“Though most people with a chest infection will get better with antibiotics, if left untreated or in those with a compromised immune system, you can become very unwell and need hospitalisation,” she explained.

3. Undiagnosed lung disease

“Although we all get coughs and colds, it isn’t normal to have a persistent cough,” Dr Rachel said.

“If a serious illness like lung cancer has been ruled out, other lung disease like COPD and asthma will be considered.

“Your GP will ask details about your breathing and coughing patterns, family history and smoking history.

“Lung function tests may be used to make a definite diagnosis of one of these lung conditions” she said.

4. Acid reflux

Acid reflux is the leaking of acid from your stomach up into your gullet, throat or mouth and can cause cause irritation.

But, according to Dr Rachel, it can also cause a chronic cough.

“The underlying reason for the acid reflux will be assessed but this can often be improved with diet changes and antacids,” she said.

5. Post nasal drip

“When we produce excess mucus in our nose and upper airways, as a result of a cold or because of an allergy like hayfever, the mucus drips from the back of our nose and down or throat,” Dr Rachel said.

This causes us to cough and we cough up the mucus.

“This can understandably be confused for having chest infection but isn’t associated with the other symptoms like fever and tends to be worse after lying down.

“Nasal steroids used for allergies will reduced this symptom if allergy related and if it is caused by a cold it will settle as the cold clears up,” she explained.



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