A cough is a reflex action to clear the throat from mucus and external irritants such as dust particles, smoke, microbes, fluids, etc. In short, the cough is a quick eviction of air from the lungs, which passes through the mouth. It is a common reflex that helps remove the obstruction of breathing and does not need immediate medical attention at the initial stage. However, if a cough lasts longer, it may possibly be a sign of a serious disease as well.
A cough can be divided into two parts viz. an Acute Cough and Chronic Cough. Coughs that last not more than 2 to 3 weeks are called Acute Cough while Chronic Coughs last longer than 3 weeks and can be dangerous for health. These kinds of coughs are known as Persistent Coughs as well.
Causes of Acute Coughs (Short-Term Coughs)
A quite common infection that causes Acute Coughs is called the Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, which is also known as the URI or URTI. This infection affects the throat, trachea, and sinuses, which triggers flu, common cold, and Laryngitis.
Another reason that causes Acute Coughs is called the Lower Respiratory Tract Infection (LRTI), which affects the lungs and lower airways. This infection causes Pneumonia and Bronchitis. Besides, Acute Coughs can cause Hay Fever as well.
Causes of Chronic or Persistent Coughs (Long-Term Coughs)
There can be a number of reasons that cause Chronic Coughs such as smoking, Asthma, Bronchitis, post-nasal drip, Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD), Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), etc.
A cough caused by smoking is often called the ‘Smoker’s Cough’. It usually lasts longer and may lead to loads of complications in the respiratory system of the body including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which obstructs the lung and creates several breathing problems and poor airflow for the long term.
Asthmatic Coughs include symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, tiredness, etc. This type of cough increases during the nights and cause difficulty sleeping.
Bronchitis is a type of inflammation that damages the bronchial tubes, which carry the air to the lungs. It produces thick mucus that can further result in bronchial tubes being swelled and/ or blocked.
The body produces mucus, a thick, wet and stingy fluid substance, on a regular basis to help get rid of the external dust particles and virus. Usually, it is not noticeable and drips down the throat from the back of the nose. However, when the body produces an excessive amount of mucus, it comes out of the nostrils and mouth and causes a running nose.
Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) or Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD):
Acute Coughs often cause stomach acid to leak up into the tube that joints mouth and stomach, which is called the esophagus / esophageal or gullet. The tube is also known as the food pipe. GORD usually leads to heartburn and affects the taste buds as well.
Types of Coughs
Coughs can further be divided into four distinct categories namely Croup Coughs, Dry Coughs, Wet Coughs, and Whooping Coughs. Let us know about these four types of coughs first.
Croup is an infection that is caused by viruses and bacteria, and affects the Larynx, also called the voice box, trachea, known as the windpipe, and the bronchial tubes that supply air to the lungs. Croup Coughs are usually contagious, especially at the initial stages. It irritates the Upper Respiratory Tract and makes it swelled which causes complications while breathing.
Dry Coughs are often caused by several factors such as infection in the nose and throat, allergies air pollution, change in the temperature, dry atmosphere, acid reflux, etc. It produces very less or no mucus during the infection and is also known as the Tickly Coughs and Non-Productive Coughs.
Wet Coughs are also known as Chesty Coughs and Productive Coughs. This type of cough produces a large amount of mucus and phlegm, which is stored in the Lower Respiratory Tract due to the infection and/ or asthma. Wet Cough occurs to remove the additional mucus through the nostrils and mouth.
Whooping Coughs are also known as the Pertussis. This type of cough is caused by a bacterial infection into the Upper Respiratory Tract and is highly contagious. Some of the symptoms the Whooping Coughs cause include the running nose, fever, nasal blockage, watery eyes, and extreme fatigue in some cases.
Cough Symptoms and Signs
- Sore throat
- Excessive production of the mucus and phlegm
- Blocked nasal
- Running nose
- Post-nasal drips
- Unpleasant and sore taste
These are the common symptoms, in case of multiple symptoms, ask your doctor to consult the patient.
Complications of Cough
While Acute Cough is a protective function that removes the blockage in the airways and fights the external bacteria and germs, Chronic Cough can sometimes be quite dangerous and can lead to many other serious diseases. Some of the common and major complications that cough causes include:
Fainting and Dizziness
The severe coughs sometimes cause fainting and dizziness and are often known as Cough Syncope. It affects the sensory organs and reduces the blood flow to the brain while coughing, which can lead to major damage. Usually, Asthma, Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Whooping Coughs, and some kinds of heart diseases cause fainting during the coughs.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder, which is among the common complications caused by coughs. Regular production of mucus makes the body release it through the coughs and makes it difficult to sleep at night. The post-nasal drips and symptoms of GERD are the two main causes that increase the chances of having insomnia.
Chronic Coughs often cause throat infection, which can spread throughout the body and can affect other parts as well; and can lead to tearing the abdominal wall. This condition is however quite rare. Usually, the abdominal hernia caused by other infections or diseases is hard to identify, however, the hernia caused by the coughs is easily identified.
As per the article published by the World Journal of Emergency Surgery in 2006, fractured ribs caused by Chronic Coughs are among the quite common complications occurred from coughs. It mainly occurs in old adults and has an effect on women for the most part. Chronic Coughs majorly affect the middle ribs and increased the chances of attacking people having low bone density.
The severe Persistent Coughs affect the gas exchange in the lungs and block the necessary amount of oxygen required by the body tissues. This condition is called Hypoxia. Hypoxia caused by Persistent Coughs commonly attacks infants and babies as compared to adults. Furthermore, Whooping Coughs develop the bacteria in the body that cause Pneumonia, which may increase the risks of getting Brain Hypoxia.
Other Complications of Cough
- Physical exhaustion
- Cough-induced urine leakage
- Hoarse voice
- Muscle uneasiness
- Small blood vessel injury
- Inflammation in the throat tissues
- Coughing up blood
How to Prevent Coughing?
- Avoid the extreme change in the temperature, such as the sudden exposure to the Sun or moving to the air-conditioned rooms from the heat outside.
- Avoid taking warm bath late at nights or early in the morning.
- Avoid consuming pickles and fried foods as sour food items increase the chances of getting a cough
- Avoid extremely cold food items, especially the cold drinks and ice creams
- Keep the hands and body clean to get rid of the germs
- Keep the house clean and make sure bathroom and kitchen are hygienic and germ-free
- Avoid getting in touch with dust
- Keep the rooms ventilated with filtered air-conditioning system
- Keep the body hydrated and consume enough water or any other beverages
- Avoid being in contact with the infected people. Many types of coughs are contagious and transmit the bacteria very quickly.
- Have proper sleep
- Avoid consuming alcohol and smoking
The doctor starts the diagnosis procedure by examining the throat and testing out if the infection persists. Further analysis includes listening to the sound of coughs and enquiring about the symptoms the patient is having. If the patient has a bacterial infection that causes coughs, the doctor will recommend some oral antibiotics.
Generally, there is no need to have intense treatment for mild and Acute Coughs as it usually does not harm the body severely at the initial stages. Such mild coughs can be treated at some by consuming fluids and keeping the body hydrated. Taking painkillers such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen will also work. However, if the coughs persist for weeks and become rigorous day by day, medical care is required immediately.
Home Remedies for Cough
Treatment of Cough by Honey
Honey is being used to cure coughs for centuries now and is considered one of the most effective remedies for coughs. Having honey with warm tea, warm lemon water, or even grape juice helps soothe a sore throat. Drinking honey alone is also quite effective as it coats the throat and lessens the irritation caused by the infection.
(Note: Do not give honey to infants and babies under the age of one year as it contains the bacterium called Clostridium Botulinum, which may increase the risks of infant botulism).
Treatment of Cough by Herbal Tea
Drinking a couple of cups of tea helps tame coughs as fluids soothe the throat and reduce the infection. One of the best parts of having tea is one can experiment the drink with several herbs and spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, honey, clove, etc. Further, adding turmeric, marshmallow root, or licorice root is a scientifically proven treatment to cure coughs.
Treatment of Cough by Steam Inhalation
One of the great ways to treat Chronic Coughs includes inhaling the steam. It helps reduce the amount of mucus and phlegm stored in the lungs and helps hydrate the airways, thus, providing relief in a cough and cold. Using eucalyptus oil while inhaling steam proves to be quite helpful in reducing the mucus.
Treatment of Cough by Warm Water
Water, as always, is the best remedy to cure both Acute and Chronic Coughs. While gargling with salted water helps cure the swollen throat tissues, adding lemon, honey and eucalyptus leave in the warm water helps reduce the soreness in the throat.
Treatment of Cough by Peppermint Leaves
Peppermint has menthol possessions that reduce the congestion produced by the mucus and help soothe the throat from infection. Peppermint’s antibacterial properties help relax the muscles that cause fever and sore throat. Drinking peppermint tea with honey is also a proven remedy that is often used to cure Wet Cough.
(Note: Avoid giving peppermint to infants as it can cause burning mouth and tongue.)
Treatment of Cough by Lemon
Lemon is also an effective remedy to calm the soaring throat caused by the infection. Lemon has Antioxidants and Vitamin C that help stimulate saliva and reduce throat irritation. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle black pepper and salt on it. Squeeze it in the mouth and slurp it to get instant relief. Drinking lemon juice with added honey in it is also quite helpful to cure coughs.
Treatment of Cough by Garlic
Garlic possesses antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that help restore the Upper Respiratory Tract from throat infections. Boil a cup of water and add garlic, two to three cloves, and one teaspoon honey, and mix in properly. Wait for 5 to 10 minutes and let it cool to room temperature. Once its temperature gets down, drink it.
Treatment of Cough by Almonds
Almond is believed to have the nutritional properties that help relieve bronchial problems. Soak a few almonds in the water at night and make a smooth paste of it in the morning. Add teaspoon butter or sip it with the orange juice. Repeat this activity for a couple of days to remove the symptoms of coughs.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1) How to know if a cough is normal or due to some disease?
Ans: Coughing is normal as long as it does not affect the lifestyle majorly. However, coughing up blood or mucus needs immediate medical attention.
2) What if a cough lasts even after quit smoking?
Ans: Smoking develops COPD that causes a cough. However, it can be diagnosed with a test called Spirometry.
3) Can a cough persist due to more than one causes?
Ans: Yes, there can be multiple causes that originate coughs.