What is Cough?
A cough is also medically known as ‘Tussis’ and is an act of clearing foreign particles, fluids, mucus, and other irritants from the breathing passage. It is a sudden noisy removal of air from the lungs. It can be deliberately or as a reflex. Coughing for a small duration of time is not serious and clears on its own. But persistent coughing can be a sign of serious illness and needs medical attention. There are many types of cough and they are:
- Wet cough
- Dry cough
- Paroxysmal cough
- Croup cough
- Whooping cough
If the cough lasts for about 3 weeks then it is called acute cough and the episodes clear up within a couple of weeks. If it lasts for more than three weeks and improves it is called subacute cough. When it lasts for more than 8 weeks it is called chronic cough. A chronic cough when it has other cold symptoms like:
- Running nose
- Postnasal drip
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose or nasal congestion
- Bad taste
- Chest congestion
- Blocked nose
Contact a general physician if you have difficulty in breathing, fever, wheezing, chest pain, coughing up green phlegm or blood, coupled or unwanted weight loss coupled with chronic cough.
Who is at Risk?
Certain situations and lifestyle changes increase cough risk factors, which are:
- Smoking: It is one of the common dry cough reasons. The chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining in the lungs and makes it produce more mucus. Exposure to second-hand smoke or even a former smoker is at a high risk of cough.
- Aeroallergens: Some airborne substances like pollen, pet hair, dust, smoke, etc can increase the risk of allergic response.
- Environmental factors: Irritants at home or workspace are common dry cough causes. People living near dusty places like freeways, construction sites, etc results in coughing.
- Chronic illness: Pulmonary fibrosis, COPD, asthma increases the risk of chronic cough.
Causes of a Cough
Dry cough causes can be due to several conditions and some of them are:
- Virus and bacteria: Respiratory tract infection due to cold or flu.
- Asthma: Young children usually have coughing due to asthma. Usually coughing leads to wheezing and is one of the ways to identify asthma in young children.
- Smoking: Compulsive smokers develop a cough as a side-effect and it is always chronic. This cough has a distinctive sound and is easy to differentiate.
- Clearing the throat: Clearing airways of particles. It is a reflex action and is not frequent.
- Medicines: It is a side-effect of medications that treat cardiovascular conditions.
- Underlying medical conditions: Pneumonia, whooping cough, pulmonary embolism, and heart failure.
A general physician examines the symptoms and decides if the cough is due to a cold or the flu. If that is the case, it is allowed to complete its course and clears in a couple of weeks. If it is found that it is not due to viral or bacterial infections and has persisted for more than a few weeks, certain diagnostic tests are ordered. It includes:
- X-rays of the chest
- Phlegm is sent to the lab for testing to determine the root cause of the infection
- A spirometry test is done to determine if the airways are blocked. The patient is asked to breathe into a tube attached to a machine.
A doctor may also refer the patient to an ENT if there are complications in the ear, nose, or throat.
How is Cough Treated?
Dry cough treatment or cure for any other type of cough depends on the cause. Some of the cough treatment options are:
- Medicines: If over the counter cough medication does not provide relief, the doctor prescribes suppressants to reduce cough and expectorants to remove mucus.
- Home remedies like steam inhalation, drinking warm fluids, etc can also provide relief from cough.
- Avoiding triggers that cause allergies. Staying away from pollen and other allergens helps to feel better.
If the root cause is due to another problem like GERD then the treatment is provided for it.
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Preventive Measures to Avoid Cough
While coughing may be necessary to clear the particles stuck in the airway, it is essential to prevent other coughs. It can be done by:
- Having foods that are rich in fiber and flavonoids which reduces respiratory illnesses like a cough.
- Avoid foods that irritate the throat and cause cough.
- Smoking is a major contributor to cough and hence it is recommended to quit the same.
- Avoid people who have contagious diseases.
- Follow proper hygiene and wash your hands before eating.
- If you have GERD or asthma consult your doctor to avoid or manage the cough.