It’s the beginning of the new academic year and all you can hear is coughing. Lecture theatres full of students hacking away, and the same in your flatmate’s room, or the shared lounge. Well don’t worry it’s common, and rarely anything to worry about.
It is normal for a cough to last up to 3 weeks, and 10-20% of the population have a chronic cough, ie one lasting more than 8 weeks.
Coughing is a reflex, clearing your throat of irritants and mucus, so asking your GP or nurse to ‘make it stop’ is fairly futile, but some things can dampen the reflex a little, such as honey and lemon juice in hot water. With a dry cough, pholcodine linctus can be helpful. But most cough medicines are a waste of money and therefore we never recommend them. Dextromethorphan is also a possible medication that can suppress the reflex, in certain ‘over the counter’ remedies, so ask your pharmacist for guidance.
When to see the nurse or doctor then (several Student Health nurses are trained to listen to chests, so can help you sort this out too)?
See us if your cough has lasted more than 3 weeks, or if you are short of breath, or coughing up blood. Also, if you have chest pain, recurrent fevers/ night sweats or unexplained weight loss.
Coughing up green mucus/ sputum is not in itself a reason to worry, as this can happen with viral and bacterial infections. Only bacterial ones may need antibiotics.The symptoms mentioned above are a more helpful guide as to when to get a check up.
Being a smoker or asthmatic may make you more prone to infections, so do mention this when you see us.
We can help you to quit smoking should you decide to take this fantastic step for your wellbeing, and we have a specialist asthma nurse for our asthma sufferers, so do book in with her for regular reviews.
Coughing is common, and in our student population rarely anything to worry about. Try the pharmacy first if you can, and see us if you are worried.