South African Family Practice

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Management of Cough: a practical approach

M Vally, MOE Irhuma


On a regular day, healthcare providers will be contacted by one or more health seekers presenting with cough as a symptom. Cough has been considered an important physiological reflex that protects the airways from aspiration of foreign materials. Cough is one of the most common symptoms for which people seek medical attention from their healthcare practitioners. The common classifications for cough include acute, subacute and chronic cough. Such classification is time dependant. Acute cough is generally self-limiting, while subacute and chronic coughs have various different causes. There are many different causes of cough, and the common causes of persistent coughs include: upper airway cough syndrome, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and even pharmacological therapy. There are other important causes of chronic cough especially in the Southern African region that include: pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), environmental diseases, and others, which will not be covered by this article. Management of subacute and chronic coughs should be individualised according to their cause. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest acute coughs need to be treated. Moreover, there is poor evidence to recommend the use of over the counter (OTC) cough syrups in the management of acute coughs.

Keywords: cough, acute cough, chronic cough, subacute cough, cough syrup

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