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Cough

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Definition

A cough is a sudden, often involuntary, forceful release of air from the lungs and air passages.

The cough reflex is the body's defense mechanism to remove irritants from the lungs and the airways. Irritation or obstruction in the airways triggers this reflex. A strong rush of air expels material from the airways helping to clear them. Mucus secretions from the nasal passages drain into the throat and trigger the cough reflex.

A cough may indicate a serious condition:

  • When blood is coughed up
  • When it is accompanied by chest pain
  • When there is difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • If there is also unintentional weight loss

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Types

  • Dry Cough - This type of cough, also known as non-productive cough, is not accompanied by expectoration of mucus (sputum).
  • Productive Cough - This type of cough is accompanied by expectoration of small or large amounts of sputum that may be frothy, whitish, yellowish, greenish or blood streaked.

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Causes

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Accidental inhalation of a foreign object
  • Choking on food, water or your own saliva
  • Dripping of nasal secretions in the back of the throat (postnasal drip)
  • Common cold, flu
  • Medications such as ACE inhibitors
  • Stress
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Aspiration
  • Bronchospasm
  • Asthma
  • Atelectasis
  • Bacterial lung infection like bronchiectasis, bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis or tracheitis.
  • Viral infections like bronchiolitis, croup (whooping cough), pneumonia or upper upper respiratory infections.
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Environmental pollution like smog, dust, smoke
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux)

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What You Can Do

  • Medications
    • Use over-the-counter cough medication like Robitussin and cough drops (lozenges) like vicks cough drops to soothe your throat.
    • Use a decongestant and/expectorant that would help expel the mucus and clear the air passages.
    • Oral antibiotics may be prescribed by your physician if the cough is due to bacterial lung infection
    • Use anti-histamines and anti-allergy medications like Reactin to combat seasonal allergies.
    • Anti-histamine or steroid nasal spray may be used to suppress the allergic inflammation.

  • General Remedies
    • Increase humidity in the surrounding air by using a humidifier.
    • Use a vaporizer 2-3 times a day when the bouts of cough are severe.
    • Drink extra fluids especially warm drinks to help secretions to be coughed up and avoid dehydration.
    • Use extra pillows to prop your head up at night, this usually eases your cough and helps to sleep.
    • Dry cough can be relieved by sucking on cough lozenges or hard candy

  • Consult your Physician if:
    • A violent cough begins suddenly, or if there is a high-pitched sound (stridor) when inhaling.
    • The cough is blood streaked or there hemoptysis (coughing of blood).
    • There is breathing difficulty.
    • Other symptoms such as fever, abdominal swelling or unintentional weight loss are present.
    • There thick, foul-smelling, rusty or greenish sputum.
    • Cough lasts for more than 10 days.
  • Preventative Measures
    • If you are a smoker, quit smoking
    • Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke at home and at work
    • Avoid exposure to irritant fumes, smoke and environmental allergens.
    • Wash hands frequently to avoid spread of germs
    • Avoid close contact if somebody already has cough or flu
    • Get a flu vaccine every year during fall season if you are over 50 yrs. of age or if you have a chronic condition that increases your risk of a flu infection and it's complications.
    • A pneumococcal vaccine is recommended if you are over 65 yrs. of age, have chronic lung disease or have a health risk that might lead to serious and life threatening complications of the disease.

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Cough