When to see a doctor about a cough: Seven symptoms to look out for according to expert
NHS advises how to treat a common cold
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Most coughs are caused by the common cold. And according to Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at the digital healthcare provider Livi, doctors are seeing lots of patients suffering with seasonal respiratory illness because fewer people have natural immunity this year following months of social distancing measures.
So what’s the best way to treat a cough?
Dr McClymont advised: “Cold coughs usually produce phlegm and mucus and are easy to treat at home. Make sure you are getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
“Over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to ease any pain related to your cough.
“You can also contact your local pharmacist who can advise on a suitable cough syrup which can help to reduce your cough.
“Alternatively, making yourself a hot lemon and honey can also help to soothe symptoms – it has a similar effect to cough medicine.”
With flu and COVID-19 also circulating, how can you tell the difference?
“Flu coughs and COVID-19 coughs are often dry, and both illnesses share similar symptoms, such as a fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and headaches,” said Dr McClymont.
“That is why it is important to take a COVID-19 test to determine which of the two you might have if you have any of these symptoms.
“Over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, along with plenty of rest, can help to ease pain and reduce symptoms of both flu and COVID-19.”
Developing a chest infection can also cause you to cough. Your cough may be chesty and might also be accompanied with green or yellow mucus, Dr McClymont warned.
She added: “Some chest infections clear on their own, but others may require a course of antibiotics which your GP will prescribe to you.”
You should also ensure to drink plenty of water to loosen the mucus.
Using extra pillows to raise your head up while sleeping can make breathing easier and clear your chest of mucus.
While most coughs will clear after three weeks, it’s important to speak with your GP if you experience the following symptoms, said Dr McClymont:
- Your cough lasts for more than three weeks
- Your cough is severe or quickly gets worse – for example, you have a hacking cough or cannot stop coughing
- You feel very unwell
- You have chest pain
- You’re losing weight for no reason
- The side of your neck feels swollen and painful (swollen glands)
- You have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or diabetes
She added: “If you are struggling to breathe or you cough up blood, then you should seek urgent medical attention.”
Most coughs are caused by a cold or flu, but the NHS says other causes can include:
- heartburn (acid reflux)
- allergies – for example, hay fever
- infections like bronchitis
- mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose
The health body states a cough is “rarely a sign of something serious like lung cancer”.
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