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Chesty Cough: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

So, you’ve started to notice a chesty cough creeping in. That coughing is your body’s way of protecting your lungs. A chesty cough is a type of ‘productive cough’ meaning it helps to bring up excess mucus and phlegm.

In this guide, we’ll go through the symptoms, causes, and different ways you can treat your chesty cough. Read on to find out more.

What is a chesty cough?

There are different types of coughs, though each is essentially a reflex action to clear your airways of excess phlegm and irritants like smoke and dust. A chesty cough, in particular, focuses on expelling phlegm, which is why it’s also sometimes called a ‘wet cough’.

You should be aware that a chesty cough itself can be a symptom of other illnesses, such as colds, flu and bronchitis.

In addition to the cough itself, the symptoms of a wet or chesty cough can include:

  • Mucus or phlegm being expelled with coughs.
  • A rattling sound from your lungs.
  • A sore throat, runny nose, and sneezing – if you have these symptoms, you may also have a cold.
  • A sore chest, fatigue, and headache – these symptoms are sometimes associated with acute bronchitis or a ‘chest cold’.
  • A fever, chills, fatigue, and body aches – you might have the flu if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Chesty cough causes

There are many causes of a chesty cough, so it’s worth identifying your symptoms, so you can seek treatment if necessary. If your cough persists or worsens though, you should speak to a GP.

Cold, flu and other respiratory tract infections

One of the most common causes of a chesty cough is a cold or flu. These seasonal illnesses are considered upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). This means they sit in your sinuses and airways and may be related to a sensation of irritation in the airways. They can also cause sneezing, a runny nose, and a fever.

A chesty, or ‘wet’, cough usually occurs later in the course of the infection after it has spread lower into the airways and triggered mucus production. This is when your body will want to try and get rid of that mucus and phlegm by coughing. Some other URTIs can also cause chesty coughs – such as laryngitis and sinusitis.

Chest infections

An infection in the lungs or large airways can lead to a wheezy chesty cough. Chest infections can also cause a shortness of breath, chest pain, and a fever. These infections occur in the lower respiratory tract, which can last longer and may require more attention than URTIs.

Chest infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia can be caused by viruses or bacterial infections. If your chest infection is viral, your doctor will usually recommend that you take plenty of rest and keep hydrated. However, if the cause is a bacterial infection, then you may require antibiotics to treat it.

Underlying diseases

In some rare cases, a chesty cough may be a sign of an underlying condition, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or Cystic Fibrosis. If you notice that your cough has lasted for more than three to four weeks and you experience any of the following symptoms, speak to your GP:

  • You run out of breath easily.
  • A whistle or squeak from your lungs when you breathe.
  • Persistent wheezing.
  • Clubbed fingers and toes (where the tips of the extremities swell and nails curve over).
  • Stomach issues.

How to get rid of a common chesty cough

Your cough will usually clear after around three weeks – and if it’s caused by a viral infection, you won’t require antibiotics. You probably won’t need to see your GP either, as viral infections and associated chesty coughs can often be managed at home by:

  • Getting plenty of rest.
  • Drinking lots of fluids.
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol as needed.
  • Staying at home and minimising contact with other people to avoid spreading your illness.

There are also a few over-the-counter remedies your pharmacist may recommend for a chesty cough caused by a viral infection. Chesty cough medicines can help to loosen phlegm and soothe your chesty cough symptoms. These can come in the forms of syrups and tablets, depending on how you want to take them and which symptoms you want to tackle.

Benylin® Chesty Cough & Cold Tablets contain guaifenesin, paracetamol and phenylephrine to help soothe symptoms in your chest, throat and head – including congestion, coughs, blocked sinuses, headaches and a sore throat. Our Chesty Coughs Non-Drowsy syrup contains guaifenesin and levomenthol to specifically target your chest symptoms and provide relief from congestion. You should discuss with your doctor if your symptoms worsen or persist.

When to see a doctor

Chesty coughs are often nothing to worry about but there are some cases where you should see your GP. Consult your doctor if:

  • You’ve had a persistent cough for over three weeks.
  • You’re struggling to breathe.
  • You’re experiencing neck and chest pain.
  • You’ve noticed you’ve lost a lot of weight quite quickly.
  • Your neck is swollen and sore.
  • Your cough has worsened very quickly.
  • You have a weakened immune system.

When you visit your GP, they might take a sample of the phlegm that you’re coughing up or book you in for an X-ray to find out what could be making you unwell.

If you’re coughing up blood, seek immediate medical advice.