It’s a natural defence against disease that helps clear our airways. But what are the signs that it signifies something more serious?
Coughing’s reputation, it’s probably fair to say, has taken a bit of a hit. Once an occasional irritation, it recently spent a couple of years as a key symptom of a disease that everyone was worried about, and it has never entirely recovered. Cough on a train in 2021, and a decent chunk of the carriage would look at you as if you should be hermetically sealed in a bag. Do it now, and you may get away with a couple of nasty stares. But, Covid aside, what else might be causing that cough? And is there anything, realistically, you can do about it?
“Coughs are a commonly presenting complaint, but in the vast majority of cases they’re nothing to worry about,” says Dr Timothy Gatheral, a consultant respiratory physician at the University of Lancaster. “As a consultant, I have a different perspective, as most cases I see have advanced to something more concerning, but the general NHS advice is not to worry unless you have a cough that persists for more than three weeks, or worsens very abruptly.”