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Why Are You Coughing?

When there is mucus or an irritant of some kind present, coughing creates enough pressure to cause air to be forced out of the lungs so that a foreign or an irritating substance can be expelled.

What makes someone cough? We’ve all experienced them, especially at this time of the year. Maybe it was a tickle that has become a cough or maybe it is a nagging cough that came with a respiratory infection. Coughing is a response to the need to expel an irritating substance from the air passage. It can help to prevent infection, and when there is mucus or an irritant of some kind present, coughing creates enough pressure to cause air to be forced out of the lungs so that a foreign or an irritating substance can be expelled.

Coughs are classified into two categories – acute and chronic. An acute cough is one that lasts less than three weeks; a chronic cough lasts longer than three weeks.  An acute cough can be caused by an infection such as a cold, sinus infection, or pneumonia.  A cough is considered chronic if it results from smoking cigarettes, asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis.  Medications and gastroesophageal reflux or GERD can cause a chronic cough too. Coughing can be a side effect of ACE inhibitor blood pressure medications such as Captopril, Enalapril, Lisinopril, and Altace.  

 Seeking medical attention

     When should you seek medical evaluation for your cough?

  • If there are other symptoms such fever and phlegm.
  • If the cough lingers and does not seem to get better, even after your cold has subsided. 
  • If your sputum is a green color and/or foul smelling. 
  • If you are bringing up blood when you cough.
  • If the cough prevents you from sleeping or interferes with your daily activities.
  • If you all of sudden develop a violent cough. 
  • If you are experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing seek immediate medical attention.

Finding relief

Home treatments may help you to feel a little more comfortable during a coughing spell.  Drinking fluids may also help to thin secretions and sooth an irritated throat.  If it is a dry hacking cough, hot tea with honey or lemon may temporarily relieve the cough.  Using a vaporizer or taking a steamy shower will increase the moisture in the air and soothe a dry throat.  Sleeping with your head elevated may help ease a dry cough too.  Cough drops will soothe a dry irritated throat. Avoid exposure to inhaled irritants such as cigarette smoke, dust, or other pollutants. 

Beware of using cough medications.  They can interfere with other medications and medical conditions such as heart failure, high blood pressure, glaucoma, an enlarged prostate, and asthma.  Cough medications also may interact with sedatives and certain antidepressants.  Cough expectorants with guaifensen help to thin mucus and make it easier to expel phlegm when you cough.  Drink fluids if you use this type of cough medication. Suppressant cough medications are used to control or suppress the cough reflex.  They work best for hacking coughs.  Ask your healthcare provider about whether suppressant cough medicines containing dextromethorphan are right for you.

If you are going to use a cough syrup, know which one is right for your cough. As always, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider about treatment.  Your pharmacist can help to advise you about interactions with other medications. Remember to always use all medications wisely; read and follow directions.

Courtesy of Kaytie Olshefski, RNC, BS, nursing coordinator of Adult Senior Communities in Monroe Township, on behalf of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Visit saintpetershcs.com/ccg/  for more information about primary care services available at the Monroe, New Brunswick and Piscataway locations of Saint Peter’s Comprehensive Care Group.  Visit the saintpetershcs.com/urgentcare/ for more information about urgent care services in Skillman.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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