Cough: should you go to the doctor?

Cough. It can be a mild cold, but in rarer cases a signal of inflammation of the throat or even lungs. How do you know how bad it is, and what should you do with it? Then just call the doctor. In a year, we contact our GP no fewer than 2.7 million times if we experience coughing complaints. But according to research, this is unnecessary three quarters of the time! How and what? Read more. Cough. It can cause mild complaints, but can also be almost debilitating. Cough can mean a mild cold, but in much rarer cases it can also be a signal of deeper inflammation of the throat or even lungs. Sometimes a visit to the doctor is essential, other times it goes away. So what to do if you cough? Just wait or call the doctor?

2.7 million visits to the doctor with a cough

Every year we contact the doctor no fewer than 2.7 million times because of cough. But how often is that really necessary? The answer to this question will surprise you. In three quarters or 76% of cases it appears not to be necessary to consult a doctor. You can then make do with taking good care of yourself. This means that in practice we could save ourselves a lot of GP visits. Because coughing is, because of all those cases in which we more or less wrongly call or visit the GP, the main complaint in general practice that we could have solved ourselves. This is evident from the study Minor ailments in general practice by NIVEL.

Coughing for 2 to 6 weeks

To arrive at this research result, NIVEL analyzed the practice data of general practitioners for a complete list of 55 complaints and conditions that fall under so-called ‘self-care complaints’. These are the health problems for which, according to a group of general practitioners and pharmacists, self-care can usually suffice. What is also remarkable is that the standard for general practitioners for cough complaints is in principle based on waiting. The cough complaints usually go away on their own. However, that can take up to two to six weeks. Patience is a virtue?

Tip: avoid pharmacy costs

Something that few people know: with prescription medicines you usually pay pharmacy costs at least the first time, which are above eleven euros at the time of writing this article. The result is that the costs for prescription medicines for people who are not chronically ill and are therefore subject to the deductible all year round, can be higher than the costs of an over-the-counter medicine. Of course, this story does not apply to people who need a lot of expensive medicine. After paying the deductible, they can (finally) use the necessary medicines with a doctor’s prescription for free.


Uncertainty abounds

Why do we go to the doctor with coughing problems? Precisely because we don’t really know how bad it is. The main reason for visiting a GP is ‘uncertainty about the severity of the condition’. This was evident from research by Synovate in 2011 on behalf of is a website that explains simple health complaints and gives people general information about what is best to do. As far as coughing is concerned, the site explains the difference between persistent cough and irritable cough, what you can do yourself about cough complaints and when you should consult a doctor.

1.5 million recipes

Despite this wait-and-see policy, in a representative year general practitioners wrote out almost 1.5 million prescriptions for a medicine to people with cough complaints. This is evident from the NIVEL research. This mainly concerns substances such as noscapine and codeine, which soften the coughing stimulus. However, you can often obtain cough suppressant medicines without a prescription from a pharmacist or drugstore. Now it is true that you have to pay for such over-the-counter medicines yourself. Even then, there is often no difference with a prescription medicine in terms of costs, because you have the mandatory deductible for medicines and medical assistance. Although the costs of visiting the GP are excluded from this deductible, the first few hundred euros in medicines are at your own expense. That’s why you quickly find yourself paying for your prescribed medication entirely yourself.

The research: who and what? is under the responsibility of Neprofarm, the Dutch Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry of Self-Care Medicines and Health Products. Neprofarm represents the interests of manufacturers and importers of registered branded medicines that are available without a prescription. This range includes regular self-care medicines as well as homeopathic, phytotherapeutic and anthroposophic medicines. Health products such as nutritional supplements and herbal preparations and self-care products that fall under the legislation for medical devices are also marketed by Neprofarm members.

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