Can’t shake this cough away

Occasional cough is normal but when cough persists for more than 6 weeks, it is chronic. Though not a disease in itself, it is a symptom of a condition.

Published: 31st August 2017 09:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st August 2017 09:25 AM   |  A+A-

A representative picture of a middle aged man outside his office suffering from a persistent cough.

Express News Service

BENGALURU: "Love, pregnancy and cough, cannot be hid,” the English metaphysical poet George Herbert wrote 400 years ago.

A cough is only a symptom and not a disease. 

Cough is one of the most common reasons for both adults and children to seek medical care, and people who approach primary-care physicians complaining of this add to more than 30 million  doctor visits annually.

Coughing is a reflex response of the air passage to anything irritating and a useful defense to help get rid of pollutants, microbes and mucus. This reflex action is a vital protection that the body has against accidental entry of food in the windpipe or even against smoke. ‘Croup’ is a necessary attack on the larynx or windpipe which is seen frequently in children.

The good news is chronic coughs can be diagnosed and treated. Seasonal allergies, a flu virus, or a more serious bronchial infection are the most common reasons for a nagging cough. However, a cough can sometimes indicate a more serious health condition—such as asthma, cancer or TB.

Post Nasal Drip, seasonal flu, smokers cough, bronchial illness or infection, dust or chemicals, medications, foreign bodies are some of the frequent triggers.

Probable analysis depending on the sputum and the sounds of cough includes:
■ A persistent dry cough relate to viral infection or sinus problems.  
■ A chronic wet cough depending on the color may indicate a bacterial infection or fluid in the lungs.
■ A ‘barking’ cough can be because of other viral illness. The harsh, barking sound is caused by a swollen windpipe.
■ A cough that causes a ‘whooping’ sound called petussis, is a symptom of serious infection and should be evaluated by a doctor. This cough is highly contagious respiratory disease and can be deadly for babies under the age of one.

The usual work-up for chronic cough often starts with a chest X-ray and a test called spirometry, which measures the volume of inhaled and exhaled air.

Stubborn Cough

Irritated airways after a cold or flu, underlying health problems such as allergies and asthma, acid reflux and obstructive sleep apnea, stress, overusing OTC nasal decongestant spray, breathing air that is too dry or moist, bacterial infection and blood pressure medicine leads to stubborn coughs that do not go away easily.

The sound of your cough can help identify the cause.

Dry cough usually follows a cold. Smoker’s cough is generally dry, so is the asthma cough. Too much mucus with the cough could signal chronic bronchitis, if the phlegm is greenish, it is a bacterial infection. Traces of blood in the cough- Hemoptysis, is associated with COPD, pneumonia, TB or even lung cancer. If mucus is frothy and pinkish it can be fluid accumulation in the lung’s air sacs called the pulmonary edema.

An undenying fact is that smoking causes stubborn cough. Smoking causes irreversible damage to the hair-like protective structures of the respiratory tract known as Cilia which leaves the lungs highly vulnerable. Smoking may even result in blood in the sputum-Hemoptysis.

Starting to Worry

So if coughing is normal and healthy, the question is when should you start worrying about that stubborn, lingering cough?

Two weeks of coughing is quite common in most cases of viral respiratory infections. The average duration of cough, according to a recent study, is 18 days. Officially, chronic cough is defined as cough lasting for at least eight weeks. More than 90 per cent of chronic cough cases are caused by one or more of these three things — allergies, asthma and reflux disease.

When you cough up blood on one or more occasions, shortness of breath, wheezing, sputum is greenish with bad smell, fluctuating fever, night sweats, loss of weight, loss of sleep, persistent evening rise of temperature should make you get worried and seek professional help.

Home Remedies

Home remedies acan control the production of mucus, cleanse the system and boost immunity.

Ginger tea, milk and turmeric, lemon, cinnamon and honey, gargle therapy, honey, lime juice,  flaxseeds, ginger tulsi mixture and warm water should help minimise the condition.  

Natural remedies are beneficial to the body to control the production of mucus, cleanse the system and boost immunity.  

■ Honey is an age-old dry cough home remedy that works wonders and has a smoothening effect and is anti bacterial. Mix it with warm milk or lemon.

■ Gargle with salt water or Lozenges or turmeric.

■ Steam inhalation should help  as a decongestant.

Health issues of cough

Chest Infection- viral or bacterial cough

Tuberculosis- fatigue, blood in sputum, sweating while sleeping and weight loss. Extremely contagious, and requires the person to go through anti tuberculosis medication.

Pertussis, a whooping cough, although not very serious in adults, can be fatal for infants. Vaccination is done in order to keep the disease at bay.

Heart Trouble- Heart failure and valvular heart disease causes persistent cough.

Lung Cancer- Blood in the sputum, chest pain, fatigue and weakness, is confirmed by a biopsy or a lung imaging test. Treatments of the disease include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or by medicines that target the cancer cells specifically.

Asthma- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that causes obstruction to the path of air, gets worse in the night time and is accompanied by a peculiar wheezing sound.

For pneumonia, atypical pneumonia or walking pneumonia, the vaccine is effective for those over 65 years to ease the symptom.

Medications- Ace Inhibitors such as enalarpil and lisinophil can cause stubborn cough.

Heart burn or GERD - Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease ,can impact the lung and is the second most-common cause of chronic cough. The oesophagus and the lung share common embryonic foregut origins and vagal innervations. There’s little effective treatment beyond prescription antitussives.

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