Chesty cough? Dry cough? Why you should NEVER ignore a tickly throat

Chesty, dry coughs are likely to be a regular occurrence at this time of year as snow and low temperatures persist around the UK between Christmas and New Year.

They are a common feature of a cold, and are when the body is attempting to expel mucus or foreign irritants.

According to the NHS, they usually go away on their own within three weeks - there is no evidence over-the-counter cough medicines work - and don’t usually require medical attention.

However, if your cough is persistent and accompanied by shortness of breath, it could be something more serious.

Dr Sarah Brewer, a GP, told the MailOnline: “A cough is caused by irritation of the airways, while breathlessness suggests that your lungs are not working as well as they might – most likely due to asthma, COPD or other lung diseases or heart failure.

“Both symptoms need checking out - urgently if you also notice chest pain, cough up blood or lose weight and have a change in voice or notice a swelling in your neck.”

Additionally, your cough could be due to tuberculosis, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and bronchiectasis.

Dr Brewer advised seeing a doctor as soon as possible so the cause can be investigated.

These are four serious reasons for your cough, and their accompanying symptoms.

Lung cancer

The condition kills thousands of people in the UK each year, and a cough that won’t go away is one of its main signs.

According to Cancer Research UK, it could also be indicated by a change in a cough you have had for a long time.

This may include it being more painful, having a different sound, bringing up coloured mucus or phlegm, or coughing up blood.

Smoking is often to blame, due to the chemical irritation it causes.

As well as coughing, symptoms of the deadly cancer include shortness of breath, an ache in the chest or shoulder, loss of appetite and fatigue.

Heart failure

Chronic coughing or wheezing is also a common sign of heart failure, caused by a build up of fluid in the lungs.

According to the Heart Rhythm Society, sufferers may also cough up mucus or phlegm.

Additionally, the NHS warn that persistent coughs may be worse at night.

Other symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue and swollen ankles and legs.

It is important to catch the condition early since it can prove deadly for many people.


The disease is caused by bacteria which usually attack the lungs.

It is caught by inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person, warn the NHS.

A persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks is a sign, and particularly if it brings up phlegm that is bloody. 


It is a long-term condition where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened.

This can lead to a  build-up of excess mucus that could make the lungs more vulnerable to infection, according to the NHS.

A persistent cough that brings up phlegm is the most common symptom of the condition.

People may also begin to cough up blood, and experience shortness of breath and chest pain.