Without knowing your age it’s difficult to say, because there’s quite a number of complaints that can bring on a cough in older people.
One of the most likely explanations for a wheezy cough is asthma. This usually starts in childhood or early adult life. Although asthma can develop later in life, other causes of a wheezy cough become more likely with increasing age.
In asthma, there may also be symptoms of breathlessness or having a tight chest when the cough and wheezing are present. Normal spirometry (breathing tests to assess lung function and capacity) does not necessarily preclude asthma.
If asthma is suspected, you may be offered a trial of an inhaler to see if this helps. Your GP may also ask you to measure and record your peak flow rate (blowing hard into a tube called a peak flow meter) several times daily to look for a pattern suggestive of asthma.
Other causes of a wheezy cough can include a chest infection or hay fever (even in non-asthmatics), and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, usually in older people who have smoked).
Asthma is often diagnosed without further investigation but, if the diagnosis is unclear, it may be necessary to do tests such as a chest x-ray to rule out other causes. Your GP will be able to help decide whether these are necessary.
This was first published in the December 2014 / January 2015 edition of CTC's Cycle magazine.