Whenever there is a clog of mucus or phlegm in your airways, coughing helps clear it up.
Coughing is a way of expelling mucus and irritations from the lungs and windpipe to prevent infections and inflammation.
It can rarely be a sign of serious sickness, as most coughs, especially those from colds and flu, heal on their own.
But if yours persists for over three weeks, seek medical attention for diagnosis and treatment.
This article will cover the types of cough, causes, diagnosis, and cough treatments.
Types of cough (tussis)
Coughs are classified based on their durations and symptoms. The classes of coughs are.
- Chesty or productive cough: Coughs that bring up mucus or sputum.
- Non-productive or dry cough: Coughs that don’t produce mucus.
- Acute cough: Short-term cough that heals within 3 weeks.
- Sub-acute: clears within 8 weeks.
- Chronic cough: Persistent cough that lasts for over 8 weeks.
- Nocturnal cough: coughing at night.
- Hemoptysis: Coughing out blood.
Causes of coughing
Be it an acute or chronic hack, there are certain factors that cause it. Below are the
Causes of acute (short-term) coughs
- Allergies such as hay fever and allergic rhinitis
- Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) such as sinusitis or whooping cough, common cold, flu, viral laryngitis
- Pulmonary embolism
- Inhalation of irritants
Causes of persistent or chronic cough
The following factors may cause persistent coughing:
1. Smoking: This is the major cause of chronic cough, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, lungs, and heart diseases.
Studies on both animals and humans showed a reduced Bik level among past and present smokers.
Bik is a protein that causes the natural death of mucus-producing cells in the airways of bronchitis patients.
2. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD): This is the frequent flow back of stomach acids into the esophagus, causing irritation.
If the irritations continue over time, it may cause a persistent cough. Gerd is also called acid reflux or heartburn.
3. Postnasal drip: This is when your nose produces much mucus, the sputum drops at the back of your throat, causing a severe cough.
4. Infections: Apart from short-term coughs caused by viral infections, bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) also cause a chronic cough called whooping cough or pertussis.
Fungal infection of the lungs also causes chronic hacks like tuberculosis (TB).
5. Asthma: Apart from a persistent cough, asthma also causes other symptoms such as wheezing, breathing difficulties, and chest congestion.
6. Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE): This is a drug used to treat high blood pressure and heart complications.
7. Chronic bronchitis and other forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When to see a general practitioner (GP)
Normally, a cough is nothing to worry about as they come and go naturally without medication.
But in rare cases, some last beyond 3 weeks without improvement. If such a condition exists, seek medical attention.
You should also seek medical advice if you notice any of the following:
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Difficulty with breathing and swallowing
- Fever that is getting worse
- Lump around your neck.
- A change in voice sound.
To achieve an accurate diagnosis, your GP will ask about the duration of the cough, symptoms, past medical history, mucus colour, and other related questions.
If he is not satisfied with the physical examination, he may subject you to further screening such as chest x-ray, breathing test, allergy test, and phlegm analysis, to find out the root cause.
Cough medicine and treatments
Once the root cause of the cough is discovered, treatment will be easier.
If a viral infection is the cause, there may be no need for treatment since it will go naturally.
However, having enough rest and drinking plenty of immune-boosting fluids may hasten the healing time.
Cough suppressant drugs such as dextromethorphan, oxymetazoline, and over-the-counter drugs are also used to treat cough.
However, there is little evidence to prove that the medicine is better than the homemade remedies containing honey and lemon juice.
Other treatment options depend majorly on the cause of the cough. For example,
- If smoking causes your cough, quitting it can help stop the cough.
- If a bacterial infection causes it, antibiotics may help cure it.
- Asthma may be treated by inhaling steroids to lessen inflammation in the lungs.
- GERD may be treated with antacids or alginate to neutralize the stomach acid.
- Allergies can be treated by quitting the things you are allergic to and by taking an antihistamine to quench the reaction.
Home remedies for coughing
Unlike persistent coughing, which is mostly caused by serious sickness, acute cough can be treated at home using the following methods.
- By taking honey and lemon mixture.
- Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Avoiding causes such as smoke, dust, and allergies
- Raise your head with an extra pillow while sleeping.
- Use decongestant sprays to clear your airways to ease breathing.
- Use cough drops to loosen thick phlegm.
Cough is a reflex action that helps clear irritations on our airways, it is beneficial to the body.
But if yours has lasted for over 3 weeks, or is accompanied by other symptoms, try to see your doctor for a check-up.
- Melvin R. Pratter, MD, FCCP. Cough and the Common Cold ACCP Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines journal.chestnet.org/ Cough and the Common Cold
- Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. (2014, November 24). Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings. Cochrane ochrane.org/CD001831/ARI_over-the-counter-otc-medications-for-acute-cough-in-children-and-adults-in-community-settings
- American Heart Association. Cough symptoms, causes and risk factors