Causes, Symptoms, 5 Types, 10 Home Remedies & 5 Prevention Tips

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Alt TextChronic coughing can be a sign of a cold or a more serious disease making it a symptom you shouldn't ignore.

Coughing can be a sign of a cold or a more serious disease making it a symptom you shouldn’t ignore.Source: iStock

OTC Cough Medications

Making Sense of OTC Cold Medications

Unsure about the hundreds of cold and
flu preparations on the drugstore
shelves? You’re not alone. Deciding among the OTC (over-the-counter) remedies for cold,
flu, or allergy symptoms can be intimidating, and a basic
understanding of the types of drugs included in these medications can help you
make an informed choice.

Coughing is a symptom of asthma, a disease that should be monitored by a doctor.

Coughing is a symptom of asthma, a disease that should be monitored by a doctor.Source: Getty Images

What causes chronic cough in children and adults?

Some common causes and risk factors for chronic cough include asthma, allergic rhinitis, sinus problems (for example sinus infection), esophageal reflux of stomach contents, medications such as ACE inhibitors, and whooping cough. In rare cases, chronic cough may be the result of inhaling foreign objects into the lungs (usually in children). It is important to see a doctor who may order a chest X-ray if a chronic cough is present. Common causes of chronic cough include:

  • Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of a constant, chronic cough.
  • Asthma is a disease of the airways, resulting in difficulty breathing or wheezing often characterized by abnormal breathing tests. Some asthma sufferers have chronic cough as their only symptom. They may even have normal lung functions tests. This is often referred to as cough-variant asthma. Asthma symptoms can be aggravated by cold air, exposure to air pollutants, pollen, smoke, or perfumes.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) refers to acid reflux, or backward flow, of stomach acid and other contents into the esophagus. If stomach acid moves backward up the esophagus, reflexes result in spasm of the airways that can cause shortness of breath and coughing. In some instances, acid reflux can be so severe that substances can be inhaled (aspirated) into the lungs and cause similar symptoms as well as damage to lung tissue. In some individuals, no sensation of heartburn is felt and their only symptom may be chronic cough.
  • Sinus problems and postnasal drip also are causes of chronic cough with mucus. This condition can be difficult to detect. Sometimes CT scan of the sinuses is necessary for diagnosis. Affected individuals often complain of a “tickle in their throat” and frequent throat clearing.
  • Infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia can cause acute cough or a chronic cough. These infections can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungus. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics. The common cold and the flu often produce a dry cough. Viral upper respiratory tract infections often result in a prolonged cough even after the infection has cleared in people with asthma. Acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis are common causes of coughing up blood (hemoptysis).
  • A particular strain of bacterial pneumonia, called Mycoplasma, may cause a chronic cough with fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and sputum production. This infection is sometimes referred to as “walking pneumonia,” and commonly affects young and healthy people.
  • Whooping cough (pertussis) is an acute, highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It can cause violent, rapid, constant coughing (often a high-piched cough with a “whoop” sound at the end) and it can be life-threatening in young children. Whooping cough commonly affects infants and young children, but can be prevented by immunization with pertussis vaccine. In adults, whooping cough can be a cause of chronic cough.
  • Chronic cough in children is uncommon. Foreign material obstructing the airways of the lungs, asthma, and allergies need to be evaluated by a pediatrician.
  • Certain medications, like ACE inhibitors (enalapril [Vasotec], captopril [Capoten] etc.) used in treating high blood pressure can cause chronic cough.
  • Less common causes of chronic cough include allergies, tumors, sarcoidosis, congestive heart failure, or other lung diseases such as chronic obstructive disease (COPD) or emphysema. Lung diseases also can cause coughing up blood.

If chronic cough persists, it is important to be evaluated by a doctor. The health-care professional will consider the possibility of asthma, postnasal drip, esophageal reflux, drug side effects, interstitial lung disease, lung cancer, or other unusual infections.

Whooping cough can last for 10 weeks, and vaccination can prevent whooping cough.

Whooping cough can last for 10 weeks, and vaccination can prevent whooping cough.Source: MedicineNet

Cough syrup may help soothe and calm both chronic and acute coughs.

Cough syrup may help soothe and calm both chronic and acute coughs.Source: iStock

What is the treatment for chronic cough caused by health problems?

The treatment of chronic cough is directed at the cause. Symptoms may be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing guaifenesin and/or dextromethorphan (these can be found as cough syrups in tablet form).

The following are treatments for chronic cough caused by medications, conditions, or diseases.

  • Asthma: Inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled steroids are given to decrease inflammation of the airways, and reduce wheezing. In some cases, short-term oral steroids are prescribed to relieve chronic cough.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Treatment for chronic cough of GERD includes avoiding foods that increase reflux, avoiding meals before lying down, elevating the head while sleeping, and taking medication such as famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac) omeprazole (Prilosec, Prilosec OTC), lansoprazole (Prevacid, Prevacid 24-Hour), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix), esomeprazole (Nexium) to decrease stomach acidity.
  • Sinus problems and postnasal drip: Use of decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may improve symptoms of postnasal drip or runny nose, which can lead to a persistent, nagging, cough. Inhaled nasal steroids are very effective in treating allergic rhinitis (hay fever), a common cause of cough. Additionally, other nasal inhalers like ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) can relieve postnasal drip. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the cause is determined to be sinusitis.

In severe cases of chronic cough, a health-care professional may prescribe codeine or other similar narcotic medications, which are effective as cough suppressants.



SLIDESHOW


Cold and Flu: Finding Relief for Your Cough
See Slideshow

A doctor should examine any patient with persistent coughing.

A doctor should examine any patient with persistent coughing.Source: Getty Images

What is the treatment for chronic caused by infections or drugs?

Infections: Bacterial pneumonia and bronchitis are typically treated with antibiotics such as cephalosporins, azithromycin (Zithromax), and other antibiotics. If the pneumonia is close to the chest wall inflammation of the surface of the lung can cause pain, known as pleurisy, and pain relievers (analgesics) can be helpful. Cough suppressants are used with caution in these situations because clearing the lung of the infected mucus by coughing helps clear the infection. Most bronchitis in adults is caused by viral infections. Therefore, treatment is much the same as that of the common cold including rest, fluids, pain relievers, and humidification. Some people find expectorant cough medicines containing guaifenesin helpful in alleviating their discomfort. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate viral bronchitis from bacterial bronchitis, and antibiotics are prescribed. In some cases, asthmatics can produce green mucus that looks infected. Your doctor can have the mucus examined to determine if an infection is present.

Medications: Patients with chronic cough who are taking blood pressure medicines called ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme), for example, enalapril (Vasotec), captopril (Capoten), lisinopril (Zestril, Prinivil), etc. should talk to their doctor about switching medications. Patients should not stop taking medicine on their own because a marked elevation in blood pressure can result from discontinuation. Discuss any possible medication changes with your doctor. A newer generation of ACE inhibitor like medicines called ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers, for example, valsartan [Diovan], losartan [Cozaar], etc.) can be alternatives that have less potential to cause chronic coughing. Many other drugs are available to manage blood pressure.

Ginger tea with lemon is one of many home remedies to relieve and soothe chronic cough symptoms.

Ginger tea with lemon is one of many home remedies to relieve and soothe chronic cough symptoms.Source: iStock



QUESTION


Which illness is known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection?
See Answer

Medically Reviewed on 2/1/2021

References

NIH. Cough.

Silvestri, RC, MD. et al. Patient education: Chronic cough in adults (Beyond the Basics). Updated: Apr 2018.
<https://www.uptodate.com/contents/chronic-cough-in-adults-beyond-the-basics>

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Proton Pump Inhibitors: Use in Adults. August 2013. 16 June 2015 <http://www.cms.gov/Medicare-Medicaid-Coordination/Fraud-Prevention/Medicaid-Integrity-Education/Pharmacy-Education-Materials/Downloads/ppi-adult-factsheet.pdf>

Waknine, Y. Diet High in Fruit Fiber and Flavonoids May Prevent Chronic Productive Cough. Medscape Medical News. Aug 03, 2004.
<https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/484871>



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