Everybody coughs. You can hear it from all types of people, from small babies to geriatrics. What can cause coughing? Sometimes it’s a symptom of an illness or condition; other times, it’s just to dislodge something stuck in the airways.
Common Causes of Cough
Coughing is a reflex to expel air through the throat to clear the airways. It is naturally involuntary, although you can, of course, fake it. Different conditions include cough as a symptom. The most common ones are the following:
- Common cold
- Postnasal drip
- Bacterial bronchitis or pneumonia
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Lung cancer
- Taking ACE inhibitors for blood pressure management
Diagnosing a Cough
There are clues that will give you an idea as to what’s causing your cough and if it’s serious. Some of them are:
- Cough characteristics (whether it’s productive or dry, throaty or chesty, etc.)
- Duration (whether acute or chronic)
- Accompanying symptoms (fever, wheezing, sore throat, etc.)
- Patient background (age, allergens, medical history, sick contacts, smoke exposure, medications, etc.)
It gets more difficult to self-diagnose when there are different factors at play. For instance, if you smoke and also suffer from acid reflux, it’s going to be harder to tell which one is causing your cough, especially if you’re also exposed to a sick child at home.
It usually works to follow a process of elimination. Go down your list of possible causes and start crossing out those that don’t correspond to the symptom profile. Nonetheless, if you’ve reached the point where your cough is a real concern, you should already be consulting a doctor.
A physical exam will probably tell your doctor what you have. In the event that the cause is not immediately obvious or it might potentially be something serious, a sputum sample, blood tests, and a chest X-ray may also be required.
More often than not, however, coughs stem from upper respiratory viral infections, in which case, rest, lots of soothing liquids, and over-the-counter cough medicine would be advised. When does a cough entail more evaluation and further treatment? More serious causes bring forth coughs with symptoms like the following:
- Fever higher than 101 degrees
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
Serious Conditions that Start as a Cough
Truly serious causes may be rare, but they’re also very much possible. It behooves everyone to know what these are.
1. Cystic Fibrosis
This is a hereditary disease that produces really thick and sticky mucus that hampers the different organs from functioning well. The phlegm blocks the airways, trapping bacteria, which leads to infections and lung damage, and ultimately, respiratory failure. Symptoms include a chronic cough accompanied by abnormally thick sputum and wheezing.
2. Lung Cancer
You don’t have to be a smoker to contract lung cancer. It starts with abnormal cells growing in the bronchial walls. A protruding intrabronchial lesion may cause coughing that sounds brassy. Coughing up blood usually occurs in the later stage of the disease.
3. Congestive Heart Failure
This is a condition that develops over time. Those who suffer from it are unable to have their heart pump blood or prevent blood from collecting in the lungs. It could lead to a heart attack and even death. Its early symptoms include a dry, hacking cough, usually when lying down.
4. Pulmonary Edema
This involves an excess of fluid in the lungs, which then accumulates in the air sacs, making breathing difficult. A sign that it’s pulmonary edema is pink, bubbly sputum upon coughing.
5. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
SARS became an epidemic some time ago. It is viral and highly catching. Its symptoms are very similar to those of flu and pneumonia, but they persist and worsen over time. This is why It’s important to see a doctor if you can’t seem to get rid of a cough.
Coughs are normally just a symptom of something less severe, but you should see a doctor at the merest indication that it has no intention just yet of going away. If it’s something serious, then it’s good to catch it at an early stage. If it’s nothing grave, it’s still to your advantage to get rid of it as soon as possible.