Cough is one of the most underrated medical issues experienced in my country, (I cannot be certain about other countries), over here, most cases of cough are treated with over-the-counter medications which are relatively affordable and easy to purchase.
While we may want to avoid cough for the rest of our lives because of the great level of inconvenience that it brings, it would be good to know that, cough also has its own benefits. When we cough, foreign materials, and mucus are brought out of the airways, and these materials would usually irritate the lungs. Most cases of cough would last for just a few days or a few weeks.
There are, however, circumstances when normal cough goes beyond normal and results in a condition we consider as being ''Chronic''. Chronic cough is one that stays longer than eight weeks of existence in adults and four weeks in children. Chronic cough goes beyond the ordinary, as it has the capacity to disrupt the patient's sleep, leaving him/her feeling extremely exhausted, several chronic cough cases also come with associated symptoms like lightheadedness, vomiting, and rib fractures.
Several factors can trigger the presence of chronic cough, some of the triggers could either be major or minor.
Postnasal Drip: This is a common occurrence that affects several humans at certain points in their lives, at this point, the glands in the nose and the throat consistently produce mucus, and the essence of the mucus production is basically to fulfill three major purposes;
- Moisten nasal membranes.
- Fight infection.
- Filter out foreign objects.
It gets to a point when the body begins to produce extra mucus, you start to feel it when the mucus is accumulating at the back of your throat or dripping down your throat from your nose, it is with this occurrence that we have a case of ''Postnasal Drip''. The symptoms associated with postnasal drip include;
- Bad breath.
- Cough that gets intense at night.
- A constant feeling to regularly clear your throat.
- A sore and scratchy throat.
Asthma: A not-so-rare inflammatory disease that makes it difficult for patients to breathe, it could make physical activities become impossible or challenging. The symptoms of asthma become prominent when the lining of the airways swells to the extent that the muscle around them gets really tightened, with this occurrence, mucus finds it possible to fill the airways and goes further to reduce the amount of air that can pass through the airways. The nature of asthma symptoms experienced is largely dependent on the type of asthma experienced.
Asthma is characterized with;
- Chest pain.
- Inability to sleep.
*Coughing especially at night.
- Constant infections.
- Tightness of the chest.
- Extreme tiredness.
- Irregular breathing.
Bronchitis: The case of chronic bronchitis creates a case of airways long-term inflammation which could cause cough, this could be a part of airway disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which typically occurs as a side effect to smokers.
After-effect of an infection: One of the most lingering side effects of certain illnesses like pneumonia or flu is a chronic cough, even whilst most of the symptoms of these infections have disappeared, the cough still remains for some time.
Other less common causes of chronic cough are;
Aspiration: This term is used to describe the process of saliva or food moving through the airway rather than the food pipe. The excessive fluid produced can collect viruses and bacteria leading to airway irritation, sometimes it may even lead to pneumonia.
Bronchiolitis: This is a common condition that affects children, caused by a virus that leads to the inflammation of the bronchioles (small airways in the lungs).
Sarcoidosis: This is an inflammatory disorder causing small growth in the lungs, lymph nodes, skin, and eyes.
Heart disease: Persistent coughing and shortness of breath could signify the presence of heart disease and heart failure.
Lung cancer: While lung cancer is a very rare condition, a persistent cough could also signify the presence of lung cancer, with a cough comes associated symptoms like chest pain as well as the presence of blood in the patient's sputum.
There is a greater chance of developing skin cancer if you smoke, this is because tobacco smoke destroys the lungs and could lead to conditions like COPD, if you have a weak immune system, there is a greater chance of getting an infection that could cause a chronic cough.
You can instantly tell that your cough requires medical urgent attention when the cough comes with;
- Chest pain
- Fever, higher than 103oF.
- Coughing out blood.
- Difficulty catching your breath.
- Sweating excessively at night.
- Loss of appetite.
Having established that chronic cough could be a result of an underlying health condition, the treatment of most cases of the cough will have to do with, treating the underlying condition.
- Decongestants to help relieve postnasal drip.
- Nasal sprays to help alleviate sneezing, runny nose, and the presence of other allergies.
- Antibiotics to treat infections like; pneumonia, bronchitis and sinusitis.
- Avoiding some types of food that can cause GERD.
In order to relieve the symptoms of chronic cough, little lifestyle changes can be encouraged to help relieve these symptoms;
- Consume lots of water.
- Stay away from situations that will make you inhale dust, smoke, and other pollutants.
- Gargling with warm salt water will help remove every presence of mucus.
- Sleep with extra pillows, especially at night, this will place your head and upper body in the appropriate direction.
- Eat fruits and food that contains fiber.
The danger of leaving chronic cough untreated, asides from having an escalation of the underlying condition (if there is any) are;
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage.