“Perhaps you should go and see a doctor about that cough!”… Ripper. if you’ve been coughing for a while, someone is bound to suggest that to you!
A cough is not “just a cough”…. it might be time to start paying attention to the type of cough you have, as it may provide some helpful clues as to the possible cause…
Why do we cough?
Any mucous or foreign substance can trigger a cough, which is in essence a reflex – a cough is designed to help clear your throat and upper airway to make breathing easier
Not all coughs are the same!
Here are some of the most important points to focus on regarding a cough:
- How long it lasts
- The character or sound.
- The type of cough: wet, dry, or blood.
- Timing of the cough
These characteristics of a cough give important clues that can point towards the cause of your cough. It’s important to remember that a cough is merely a symptom and can have many different possible causes.
Some common causes of coughs and what to do about them
Post-nasal drip can cause a short-lasting cough if you also have a sinus or upper respiratory infection, or a chronic cough if you suffer from an allergy. Post-nasal drip may cause a wet or dry cough, depending on the amount of mucous draining down the back of the throat, and it’s often worse at night when lying down.
- saline nasal irrigation or nasal sprays
- anti-histamine tablets
- cortisone nasal sprays
- short-term use of decongestant nasal sprays
Asthma is a common cause of a chronic cough which is often wheezy and associated with feeling short of breath, fatigue, a tight chest and other allergy-related conditions (hayfever, eczema). This cough is often worse at night/in the early hours of the morning, or during exercise.
- bronchodilator inhalers
- cortisone inhalers
- combination inhalers
- leukotriene receptor antagonists
Infections such as the common cold, acute bronchitis, pertussis, pneumonia and TB can all cause a cough.
- Viral infections usually cause an acute cough, which should get better without the need for antibiotics.
- Pertussis/whooping cough starts with mild symptoms, progressing to a severe cough ending with a classic whooping sound and vomiting in some cases.
- TB often causes a chronic cough, associated with weight loss, night sweats, chest pain and coughing up of blood.
- Pneumonia causes a dry cough which often becomes wet, fever and chills, chest pain, difficulty breathing and possible coughing up of blood.
Treatment for infections
This always depends on the underlying cause, so antibiotics will only be necessary in bacterial but not viral infections. Supportive treatment is given to open the airways (bronchodilator cough syrups), decrease inflammation (cortisone) and anti-inflammatories to reduce fever and chest pain.
Some other causes of coughs:
Gastro-oesophageal reflux, lung tumours, heart failure, ACEi medication, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and a whole lot of other, less common conditions, could also have coughing as a symptom.
If you’re worried about your cough, give us a call and let’s help you get the help you need!