Overview of Coughing
Coughing is the way the body responds when there is something in the airways or throat. These irritants send a message to the brain to react. The muscles in the chest then attempt to push out air from the lungs to remove the irritant. Coughing that is occasional can be classified as normal and healthy. If you have a cough that sticks around for a while, then you will want to schedule a time to see your physician. It can be expected to have a cough when you are struggling with other sicknesses, such as the cold or flu. If you are sick with something, then you can expect that the cough should clear up around the same time as when you start to feel better.
Table of Contents
Symptoms of Coughing
A chronic cough can often be accompanied by other symptoms. When you are experiencing a cough, you may also experience hoarseness, runny nose, stuffy nose, heartburn, wheezing, shortness of breath, sore throat, postnasal drip, etc.
Causes of Coughing
Regular and short-lived coughs can be common and normal. It becomes a problem when the cough lasts for a long period of time. A cough is considered chronic when it lasts for longer than eight weeks in adults and four weeks in children. Some common causes of an acute cough include: pneumonia, breathing in an irritant, the flu, a cold. Some other symptoms of a chronic cold are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), bronchitis, allergies, asthma, or post nasal drip. There are a variety of other causes to coughing, which may also include: sinusitis, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), etc.
Diagnosis of Coughing
To begin the diagnosis, your physician will ask you about your medical history and what symptoms you have been experiencing. After this, your physician may recommend a variety of tests be performed in an effort to confirm a diagnosis. However, in many cases, your physician may just begin treatment of the cough instead of performing tests. Some tests may include: imaging tests, lung function tests, lab tests, or scope tests. Imaging tests will allow for the physician to see what is happening in the lungs. A lab test will test the mucus that is being coughed up for bacteria. If there is no explanation for the cough, then a scope test will look for other possible causes of the cough.
For children with a chronic cough, they are likely to administer a chest x-ray and spirometry. Both of these tests will check and see how the lungs are doing.
Risk Factors of a Cough
You are at a higher risk for a chronic cough if you are a current or former smoker. You may also be at a higher risk for developing a cough if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can also lead to lung damage. Women are at a higher risk than men for developing a chronic cough.
Complications with Coughing
In some cases, coughing can be vigorous and can cause other problems. The most common problem with coughing is the lack of quality rest that is caused from coughing. In more serious cases, headaches, broken ribs, and urinary incontinence are associated with coughing. Having a chronic cough can be exhausting and be disruptive for sleep patterns. Whooping cough is another factor to consider when dealing with a chronic cough. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is typically vaccinated against as a child, but in some cases, that immunity can wear off and you can still be at risk for this sickness. This is characterized by an uncontrollable cough.
Treatment for Coughing
The first step of treatment is to understand the cause of the cough. The cause of the cough will need to be treated first. If you are currently taking an ACE inhibitor, then your physician will likely switch you to another medication. There are also a variety of medications that your physician may recommend. There are many antihistamines and decongestants that will help to treat allergies and postnasal drop. Inhaled asthma drugs will aid in opening the airways. If there are bacteria in the sputum, then you will be prescribed antibiotics. Cough suppressants are used when there is no cause of the cough and the cough is causing serious problems for you. Some people are not able to sleep with a cough, so this would work for them in most cases.
Home Remedies for Coughing
Cough medicine is typically taken when the cause of the coughing is unknown. Breathing in tobacco smoke in most cases can make matters worse, so it is best to avoid this completely. If you are a smoker and are experiencing a chronic cough, then you will need to quit smoking immediately. Moisturizing the air through a humidifier or a hot shower can also help to loosen the airways. Drinking fluids can also help thin the mucus, specifically in the throat. It works even better if you are able to use warm liquids such as broths, or warm lemon juice. Adding honey can also help to reduce the cough. In some cases, cough drops or candies can help to soothe an irritated throat and may even be a way to soothe a dry cough.
When to see a Doctor
You will want to see a doctor when you have a cough that lasts for several weeks. A regular cough is normal, but if the cough is persistent and lasts for more than eight weeks, then it is definitely time to see your physician. You do not have to see eight weeks to see your physician if you are concerned that there is an underlying problem or you do not feel that you are getting relief. Another sign of this is when there is discolored or bloody mucus when you cough. Other signs include, wheezing or experiencing shortness of breath, or if you are running a fever of 100 degrees or more. If you are struggling to breathe or wheezing when you breathe, then these are other signs that it is time to see your physician.