When to see a doctor about a cough: Seven symptoms to look out for according to expert

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.

“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.

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:

  • smoking
  • 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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