A to Z from the Family Medicine Doctors at UTHSCT
What’s causing your chronic cough?
Most of us have suffered through a cough that just won’t go away. It may get so bad that we wish we couldn’t cough.
But coughing actually protects our lungs, clearing secretions and unwanted material like dust particles from our airways.
The most common causes of chronic cough (a cough lasting longer than eight weeks) are smoking, postnasal drip, asthma, and acid reflux. Cigarette smoke makes your airways swell and boosts sputum production. Swollen airways and lots of phlegm lead to coughing.
Postnasal drip occurs when mucus from your nasal passageways slides down the back of your throat. When the mucus gets near the opening of your windpipe, it triggers a cough. Allergies and chronic sinusitis both produce postnasal drip.
Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs’ airways, causing inflammation and increasing sputum. If you’re exposed to cold air or to certain fragrances or chemicals, both your asthma and your coughing can worsen.
Acid reflux causes cough when your stomach acid flows up your esophagus to near the opening of your windpipe. If you notice a sour taste in your mouth, acid reflux may be the reason you’re coughing.
Medications you take can trigger chronic cough. For example, some drugs for high blood pressure cause a cough that won’t stop until you quit taking the drugs.
In children, aspiration (inhaling material like a small toy or pieces of food into the lungs) can lead to chronic cough. This is uncommon, but it can be treated.
Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia can also cause coughing. Symptoms include cough with fever, weakness, and/or shortness of breath. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor right away.
A cough can linger for a week or two after the lung infection clears but, if the cough continues, you may need to be reevaluated for other diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or whooping cough.
Your doctor can help end your chronic cough by suggesting you stop smoking, take medications for your acid reflux or allergies, and/or be tested for asthma.
Amy Hinton, MD, is a resident in UT Health Northeast’s Family Medicine Residency Program. This program graduates physicians who live and work throughout East Texas. This column is published bi-monthly in the Lindale News & Times. You can submit a medical question for consideration in future articles by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by mailing your question to: A to Z from the Family Medicine Physicians, UT Health Northeast, ATTN: Office of Public Affairs, 11937 U.S. Highway 271, Tyler, TX 75708.