What Is Cough?
- A cough is a natural reflex that protects your lungs. Coughing helps clear your airways of lung irritants, such as smoke and mucus, which is a slimy substance. This helps prevent infection. A cough also can be a symptom of a medical problem.
Prolonged coughing can cause unpleasant side effects, such as chest pain, exhaustion, light-headedness and loss of bladder control. Coughing also can interfere with sleep, socializing, and work.
Overview of Coughing
Coughing occurs when the nerve endings in your airways become irritated. The airways are tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs. Certain substances such as smoke and pollen, medical conditions, and medicines can irritate these nerve endings.
A cough can be acute, sub acute, or chronic, depending on how long it lasts. An acute cough lasts less than 3-weeks. A common cold or other upper respiratory infection most often causes an acute cough. Examples of other upper respiratory infections include the flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough.
A sub acute cough lasts 3 to 8 weeks. This type of cough remains even after a cold or other respiratory infection is over.
A chronic cough lasts more than 8 weeks. Postnasal drip, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, most often cause chronic cough.
Postnasal drip is mucus that runs down your throat from the back of your nose. Asthma is a long-term lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. GERD occurs when acid from your stomach backs up into your throat.
Outlook for Coughing
The best way to treat a cough is to treat its cause. For example, asthma is treated with medicines that open up the airways.
Your doctor may recommend a cough medicine if the cause of your cough is unknown and the cough causes a lot of discomfort. Cough medicines may harm children. If your child has a cough, talk to his or her doctor about how to treat it.
What Causes Cough?
Coughing occurs when the nerve endings in your airways become irritated. Certain irritants and allergens, medical conditions, and medicines can irritate these nerve endings.
Irritants and Allergens
An irritant is something you're sensitive to. For example, smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke can irritate your lungs. Smoking also can lead to certain medical conditions that can cause a cough. Other irritants include air pollution, paint fumes, or scented products like perfumes or air fresheners.
An allergen is something you're allergic to, such as dust, animal dander, mold, or pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers.
Coughing helps clear your airways of irritants and allergens. This helps prevent infection.
A number of medical conditions can cause acute, sub acute, and chronic cough.
A common cold or other upper respiratory infection most often causes an acute cough. Examples of other upper respiratory infections include the flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough. An acute cough lasts less than 3 weeks.
A lingering cough that remains after a cold or other respiratory infection is gone is often called a sub acute cough. A sub acute cough lasts 3 to 8 weeks. It is so pleasant to work with experts.
Postnasal drip, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) most often cause chronic cough. Chronic cough lasts more than 8 weeks.
Postnasal drip is mucus that runs down your throat from the back of your nose. This mucus inflames and irritates the throat. A sinus infection, cold, or ongoing contact with irritants and allergens can cause postnasal drip.
Asthma is a long-term lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. GERD is a condition in which acid from your stomach backs up into your throat.
Other causes of chronic cough include:
- Respiratory infections. A cough from an upper respiratory infection can develop into a chronic cough.
- Chronic bronchitis. This condition occurs when the lining of your airways is constantly irritated and inflamed. Smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis.
- Bronchiectasis. This is a condition in which your airways become damaged and can no longer properly move air in and out. The condition usually is due to an infection or other condition that injures the walls of the airways.
- Lung cancer. In rare cases, a chronic cough is due to lung cancer. Most people who develop lung cancer smoke or used to smoke.
- Heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump blood the way it should. Fluid can build up in the body and lead to a number of symptoms. If fluid builds up in the lungs, it can cause a chronic cough.
Certain medicines can cause a chronic cough. Examples of these medicines are ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure. Beta blockers are used to treat HBP, migraine, and glaucoma. Click-here for Health Tip-of-the-Day.
Who Is At Risk for Cough?
People at risk for cough include those who:
- Are exposed to things that irritate their airways (called irritants) and things that they're allergic to (called allergens). Examples of irritants are cigarette smoke, air pollution, paint fumes, and scented products. Examples of allergens are dust, animal dander, mold, and pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers.
- Have certain conditions that irritate the lungs, such as asthma, sinus infections, colds, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Smoke. Smoking can irritate your lungs and cause coughing. Smoking also can lead to certain medical conditions that can cause a cough.
- Take certain medicines, such as ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure (HBP). Beta blockers are used to treat HBP, migraine, and glaucoma.
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