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Coughing is the voluntary or involuntary rapid expulsion of air from the lungs to clear the throat and breathing passages of mucus or other irritants. A cough that lasts for more than 8 weeks is a chronic cough. It may be a sign of an illness or certain diseases of the lungs, stomach, heart or nervous system.

Chronic Cough

Causes of Chronic Cough

Common causes of chronic cough include:

  • Asthma: Asthma-related coughs may last for several days due to continuous exposure to certain chemicals or cold air.
  • Postnasal drip: This is due to the excess production of mucus in your nose. The cough reflex is triggered when the mucous drips down the back of the throat causing Upper-Airway Cough Syndrome (UACS).
  • Infections: Certain diseases such as whooping cough, flu, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. can cause a cough that lasts for several days.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: It is characterised by inflammation of your airways.
  • Acid Reflux: It is the backflow of digestive juices from your stomach into the oesophagus causing a cough reflex.
  • Other causes: Cystic fibrosis, lung cancer and infections that cause inflammation of the bronchioles or damage to airways may also cause a chronic cough.

Symptoms that are associated with Chronic Cough

The associated symptoms depend on the underlying cause and may include:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • A runny nose
  • Blocked nose due to excess mucus production
  • Feeling of acidity and heartburn
  • Sore throat
  • Sputum containing blood (few cases)

Diagnosis of the Underlying Cause for Chronic Cough

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may order the following tests:

  • Sputum Cultures: A sample of your sputum is tested for the presence of microorganisms that may cause an infection.
  • An Acid Reflux Test: It is performed to measure the level of acidity in your oesophagus.
  • Pulmonary Function Test: It is used to detect Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease (COPD).
  • CT Scan: It may be ordered to diagnose a lung disorder such as cancer.
  • X-Ray: It may reveal inflammation or abnormalities within your lungs.
  • Bronchoscopy: An endoscopic technique used to visualise the inside of your airways.

Treatment for a Chronic Cough

The treatment options vary depending on the cause of the chronic cough:

  • Asthma: Bronchodilators and steroids may help reduce inflammation and widen the air passages.
  • Postnatal drip: Decongestants may be prescribed. Nasal sprays containing steroids or antihistamines are given to prevent excess mucus production.
  • Infections: They may be managed by antibiotics or antiviral medications.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: This condition may be treated by bronchodilators and steroid medications.
  • Acid Reflux: Medications may be prescribed to prevent excess acid production.
  • Cough-suppressants may be ordered to help suppress the cough reflex.

In addition to the above treatment, these simple tips can help manage a chronic cough:

  • Consuming enough water and hot drinks
  • Using a vaporiser to inhale the steam
  • Sucking on a cough lozenge
  • Avoiding cigarette smoke
  • Avoiding acidic foods

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