Every one coughs at one point or the other. Ranging from a number of reasons like when you laugh too hard, you choke on your saliva, food or other substances in your airways. Usually a cough may not be a cause of alarm, but when it begins to persist for a longer period than usual, you may start to wonder. Even now if you cough in public, people may look at you somehow and try to distance themselves because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But when should you really start worrying about a cough?
Coughing is your body’s way of getting out irritants or mucus from your airways by pushing air from your lungs. It is a kind of defensive reflex. Cough is caused by various reasons but the most common cause of a persistent cough is a respiratory tract infection. A cough could either be dry or wet. A wet cough is a cough that brings up mucus you might also have a runny nose along with it. Wet cough is usually caused by a virus in the respiratory tract. Other respiratory problems that can cause wet cough includes asthma and pneumonia. A dry cough does not bring up mucus. It occurs due to irritation or inflammation of the respiratory tract. It lasts longer than wet cough and can be due to other respiratory conditions like sinusitis, asthma, tonsillitis and allergies or irritants.
Coughs lasting less than 3 weeks usually clear up with over the counter medications and home remedies. A persistent cough also known as chronic cough is when the cough lasts longer than 3 weeks. It is advisable to visit your doctor when a cough persists after 3 weeks even with treatment and is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath or coughing up blood.
However, for the sake of the pandemic (COVID-19), if you are coughing irrespective of how long with any of the following symptoms, see your doctor without hesitation- fever, watery stool (diarrhea), severe body pain, loss of taste, loss of ability to smell, difficulty in breathing, loss of memory, and new or sudden episodes of convulsion.
Causes of chronic cough
- Smoking is the major cause of chronic cough
- Chronic bronchitis
- Lung cancer
- Whooping cough
- Irritants or allergens
- Side effects to some medications
- Damage to the vocal cords
- Nasal sprays
- Extremely moist or dry air
Sometimes a chronic cough should not be a cause of alarm and can be treated with over the counter medications especially if it caused by factors such as irritants or reactions to medications. Immediate medical attention should be sought if coughing causes you to faint, if you cough up blood, if the cough is accompanied by high fever, if you have trouble breathing or tightness in the chest, become severely dehydrated and also when the cough makes you unable to swallow food.
Your doctor would give prescriptions based on the nature and duration of the cough. Further examination would be carried out in a situation whereby the cause of the cough is unknown. You can also carry out the following home remedies;
- Gargling with warm water to clear your throat of the mucus
- Avoid irritants and allergy triggers
- Over the counter cough expectorant
- Staying hydrated
- Honey has a soothing effect, taking it can help soothe the throat and relief cough though it shouldn’t be given to children below the age of one year.
- Ginger can also help relief cough. You can take it naturally or as a drink
Note that some cough medications have side effects such as drowsiness and should not be taken prior to handling mechanical equipment.
Oyewole Ibukun is currently a Medical student of Olabisi Onabanjo University. She has a passion for seeking knowledge with a creative, detail oriented and analytical mindset.