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A cough is an important part of the body’s defence system to help keep the airways clear and free of any blockages – but it can also be distressing and uncomfortable. Most people will experience a cough at some point during their life, and it is one of the most common reasons for someone to pay a visit to a doctor. But what causes a cough? Here, we explore some common symptoms and causes of coughs, as well as when you should see your doctor.

Common symptoms related to cough

Coughs are usually a response to irritation in the airways. This irritation can lead to increased mucus production and a runny nose, both of which can induce a cough reflex.
Accordingly, coughs may be accompanied by phlegm or mucus – this is known as a productive cough. However, a cough can also be non-productive, meaning it is a dry cough with no mucus or phlegm.
Coughs are typically categorised by how long they last1:

Acute cough Can last up to 3 weeks
Subacute cough Can last anywhere from 3-8 weeks
Chronic or persistent cough Can last 8 weeks or longer

Your cough may be difficult to control, and you may also find yourself coughing in response to things you normally wouldn’t find irritating, such as cold air. You may also have various other symptoms accompanying your cough, depending on what the cause is.

What causes coughing?

There are many different reasons for developing a cough. Cough can be a symptom in many illnesses, but the most common cause of acute cough in adults are upper respiratory tract infections. These refer to viral or bacterial infections in your nose or throat, with the common cold being a familiar example.

Cough may also be caused by an allergic reaction, or due to use of certain medications. Environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke or cold dry air, may also contribute to or worsen a cough.

Why do I have a constant cough?

If you have constant coughing that lasts longer than 8 weeks, it is considered a chronic or persistent cough.1 Repeated coughing can cause your throat to become inflamed, irritated and sensitive, which can lead to an ongoing urge to cough. This can have a big impact on both physical health and wellbeing.

For chronic coughs, it’s important to identify what might be causing it rather than simply trying to manage the cough itself, so see your doctor for advice and treatment.

When to see a doctor

You should seek medical attention if:2

  • You have a cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks
  • The cough is severe or getting worse
  • You are short of breath
  • You cough up blood
  • You have unexplained problems like weight loss or a fever

If a child has a cough, they should see a doctor if they have:2

  • A cough that starts suddenly
  • A cough that lasts longer than 2 weeks, with or without a cold
  • A cough that interferes a lot with their sleep or daily life
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A high fever
  • Skin that is changing colour, turning blue or very pale

How to treat a cough

Many people with a cough might seek cough treatment. While most coughs will usually get better on their own, there are some things you can do to help relieve symptoms and irritation.

If your cough is caused by the cold or flu, you could try Strepsils Herbal Cough+ Lozenges. They contain menthol to help temporarily relieve cough, clear blocked nose and soothe sore throats. These lozenges can be taken by adults and children over 12 years old.
For more ways to help relieve cough, check out this article here.

  1. 1. Sharma et al 2021. 2. Healthdirect Australia. Cough. Available here.

This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.