This site has one very clear purpose – Helping those who are having problems with a persistent cough. We’ll give you all the information you need in short, concise form. You’ll get to know the causes, symptoms and treatment options that may be needed. First off, let’s define the problem.
What is a “Persistent” Cough
Persistent is defined as being continuous and recurring for long periods of time (extends from months to years).
Coughing is a reflex, one that everyone has from birth. Coughing is the body’s defense mechanism against any harmful microorganisms. This spasm is for the purpose of removing and clearing away the irritating substance or foreign bodies may lodge in the nose, mouth and/or throat. The main aim of coughing is to allow a regular breathing pattern to be maintained.
The problem can be dry, where there is no phlegm produced, or “productive” i.e. mucus is brought up.
Causes of The Problem
A persistent cough can last for months or indefinitely if left unchecked. It may stop and come back again and again. The main causes of persistent cough are the following:
- Infections- Throat and particularly chest infections can cause this. A persistent cough after cold and flu viruses is common. Some viruses have this as a main symptom, such as whooping cough (pertussis) in children and pnuemonia.
- Smoking – when a ball of dust goes directly to your lungs, it will affect the normal breathing pattern. This is due to the fact that our system does not recognize the harmful gases found in cigarettes. Second hand smoke is also bad (inhalation of smoke from the smoker nearby), including third hand smoke (smoke that lodged in couch, blankets, walls, carpets, curtains and other furniture of the smoker).
- Postnasal drip – This happens when we lie down and the discharge from the nose drips down the throat causing irritation.
- Allergy – can be a side effect of a medication or from food for example. Aerosol sprays, insecticides, dust, pollen, bird feathers can cause allergy as well.
- Poor environment – dirty environmental conditions will make one prone to respiratory disease. And due to bad ventilation, acquiring airborne diseases (diseases that are spread in the air) are higher.
- Weak immune system – another cause of persistent cough. Weak immune systems can be from an underlying medical condition (such as Cancer, Diabetes, Lupus), from treatment (such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy where the healthy cells are also affected, weakening the immune system). When the defences of our body are down, the micro-organisms will take the opportunity to attack. Viral infection can occur, and in persistent cough the common virus is the para-influenza virus. Due to viral infection, there will be an inflammation of the throat (parts affected are larynx, bronchi, trachea).
- Other underlying medical diseases – like asthma (chronic constriction of the airways), tuberculosis (infectious lung condition that weakens the immune system), bronchitis (inflammation of the air passages in the lungs) and sinusitis (inflammation of the air passages of the nose), etc. are some of common causes. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) is also a persistent cough cause. In GERD, the lower esophagus is relaxed that allows the acids of the stomach go up the esophagus and the throat. The acid will cause irritation and eventually persistent dry cough.
- It can also be a sign of more serious conditions such as lung cancer. Hence you should never ignore a chronic cough.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a persistent cough are almost the same with any other. The only difference is the length of cough and its recurrence:
Coughing – may be with or without discharge (dry or productive). Itchiness in the throat and redness are often present concurrently.
- Colds– may be a cause of persistent cough. Due to the nasal discharge, it drips down the throat causing irritation. You may have a tickle or a persistent sore throat also.
- Fever – due to an infection, fever may be present.
- Difficulty with breathing – due to coughing and irritation, difficulty breathing may be present.
- Red spots in the eyes or cheeks – due to increased pressure when coughing, small veins in the eyes and cheeks can pop and red marks can be seen. Pain in the abdomen can also be observed due to persistent coughing.
If you have a cough for longer than 3 weeks, seek medical advice
In order to diagnose the cause of your problem, your doctor will order to run some diagnostic tests like the following:
Physical examination – is a thorough examination of the throat and nose, including the vital signs and breathing pattern. In examination of the nose and throat, any redness and swelling will be seen right away by the physician. This can aid in diagnosing the patient and determine what medications to prescribe.
The vital signs are taken such as blood pressure, pulse, breathing and temperature. This is to check for fever and any irregularities in heart beat and breathing. The doctor will also evaluate the breathing pattern by observing the breathing if it is shallow, fast, etc. the doctor will also note if it is nasal or mouth breathing. Auscultation (listening) of the lungs will be performed by the doctor by placing the stethoscope (listening device) in the patient’s front chest and back chest. Different sounds may be heard such as wheezing (that may indicate obstruction), and crackles (indicative of phlegm or obstruction).
Allergy test – allergies to medicines and food will be determined by series of tests. The common medicines where allergies arise are antibiotics (medicines to fight infection). This is tested by
injecting less than 1mL of the mixture of medicine and saline under the skin. When injected, this will create a small bump. A pen is used to mark the size. Medicine name and time injected are both noted. After 30 -45 minutes, the doctor will examine the site if there are any changes such as redness, swelling and itchiness. If there is no change, allergy is negative. If there is an allergic reaction, then the allergy result is positive.
Chest X-ray – to evaluate the morphology (structure) of the lungs. This will determine any accumulation of fluids, discharge, tumor and other growths present and their location.
CT Scan (Computerized Tomography) of the lungs – provides a detailed cross-sectional image of the respiratory system by giving out horizontal and vertical images of all the body parts. This will aid the physician in determining any growths and the specific location of it.
Treatment of a Persistent Cough
Treating a persistent cough can be done at home, partnered with the doctor’s advice and prescription medicines.
Here is a list of the home remedies for persistent coughing:
- Increased water and fluid intake. Citrus juices are also recommended to strengthen the immune system. Water will aid in cleansing and soothing the throat, as well as keeping up hydration levels, particularly important if you are fighting infection.
- Prepare balanced meals – Vitamins and minerals will strengthen the body and the immune system as well.
- Healthy lifestyle – get lots of rest. Bad habits such as drug use and and smoking must be stopped. There are treatments available to help quit such as rehabilitation, support groups and psychological help – ask your physician.
- Elevate head of bed – this is another home remedy to help prevent postnasal drip. This position will also help breathing better than lying flat.
- Steam – in a bucket or pan, pour in hot water. Position yourself on top of the bucket and place a towel or blanket above your head and cover to not make sure you lock in the steam. Inhaling steam soothes and opens the nasal passages allowing a better breathing process.
- Clean environment – making the surroundings clean is a must in order to have a speedy persistent cough remedy. This is to remove dust and dirt present around you. Avoid aerosol sprays, insecticides and spray paints. If cannot be avoided (such as part of one’s work), make sure to wear protective equipment.
- Hygiene – If you have an infection, practice good hygiene, including hand washing before and after meals and using the bathroom. Avoid sharing utensils, plates and cup. As much as possible, use your own utensils to avoid spread of disease.
More remedy advice can be found here.
The doctor will also give prescription medicines, in order to fight infection and help stop persistent cough. Here are the pharmacological (medicinal) treatments:
- Antibiotics- to stop growth and multiplication of bacteria, but won’t help with viruses.
- Antitussive – a medication prescribed to help reduce the cough reflex
- Analgesics and antipyretics – medicine for pain and fever will be prescribed to normalize body temperature.
- NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) – will help reduce swelling of the infected respiratory system.
- Antibacterial mouthwash – a home remedy counterpart is a cup of hot water with 1 tbsp. of salt. Bottled mouthwash can be purchased in the grocery or pharmacy. This is gargled after brushing teeth and after meals.
- Lozenges – candy form medicine that comes with many flavors. Lozenges have a soothing effect and helps stop coughing and itchiness of the throat. there are some lozenges with (Lidocaine) a numbing agent to decrease pain.
Prevention tips for persistent cough:
- Stop smoking – not only pertains to cigarettes, but also stopping bad habits like alcoholism and drug use. These are all irritants to our system and they contain chemicals that contribute in killing healthy cells. Stopping smoking will not only spare you from smokers cough, but also from skin problems and cancer.
- Healthy lifestyle – nutritious foods, sufficient water intake, adequate rest and clean body and environment will make your body strong and fight diseases.
- Vaccination – visit your doctor to get vaccinated from flu and other diseases. Vaccination is a means of protecting the body from these illnesses, but it is does not give a 100% guarantee that you will not acquire a certain sickness. Vaccination will reduce the complication and the length of being sick.
A persistent cough may be a harmless nuisance but it may also point to a serious underlying disease. Always seek professional advice on what may be causing your problem and what treatment you need. Do not wait and hope that the problem will clear itself up.
If you have a cough for longer than 3 weeks, seek medical advice