Chronic Cough Q&A

Dr Gareth Roberts is one of our top respiratory specialists at BMI The Princess Margaret Hospital. He treats a variety of respiratory disorders. Find out more about Respiratory medicine.

Here we ask him about chronic cough, the causes, symptoms and treatments.

Dr Gareth Roberts
A chronic cough is one that has been present for more than 8 weeks.  It can occur at any time of the day or night and may be associated with sputum production.

Dr Gareth Roberts
There are a variety of causes of cough, some of which may not be directly related to the lungs themselves.  Any patient who has a history of smoking and experienced weight loss or coughing up blood should always be urgently investigated.  Often, the most important causes to exclude are those where lung cancer is suspected.  Fortunately lung cancer only accounts for 2% of the cause of chronic cough.

Other respiratory causes include changes in the lungs related to smoking (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – COPD) and Asthma.

Many patients present with a cough were the causes include chronic gastric reflux and sinus disease.  All of these can be managed to help control the symptoms.  Indeed, some medication including those used to treat high blood pressure can be responsible for a persistent cough.

Dr Gareth Roberts
There is often a wide variety in the symptoms of cough. There are often differences in the time of the day that the symptoms begin and also a variety of triggers bringing the symptoms on.  Some patients may experience a persistently productive cough, whereas others only experience a dry cough. 

Dr Gareth Roberts
Due to the wide variety of causes of chronic cough, it can present at any age.  Certainly, those patients with a history of smoking are often at a higher risk of developing the symptoms.

Dr Gareth Roberts
The treatment of chronic cough largely depends on the cause of the symptoms. In any case, the treatment starts with a consultation focussing on the likely causes and features of the symptoms followed by investigations.  These would likely include testing of lung capacity (Spirometry), Blood tests and X-Rays and CT scans if required.

Dr Gareth Roberts
Many patients may take cough medication purchased at the chemist.  They often provide some symptomatic improvement, though again, a clear history and tailoring the treatment to the most likely cause will provide greater benefit.

Dr Gareth Roberts
The majority of investigations for chronic cough are available at BMI Healthcare.  X-rays, CT scans and necessary blood tests are available at all BMI hospitals.  In some cases, more detailed assessments of lung function are required.  If not available at your current hospital, your Respiratory Physician would be able to arrange these locally for you.

Dr Gareth Roberts
Although the majority of investigations for chronic cough are arranged on an out-patient basis, there are occasions when patients are admitted.  This is often the case when the symptoms are caused by lung conditions such as COPD or Asthma.  With easy access to the General Medical Admissions Service this can be arrange directly from the out-patient clinic or via a referral from your GP.

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