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.
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