A cough is an established involuntary action of the body that clears our throats of phlegm and other alien irritants that may reside in it. While coughs used to absolve the throat of said threats may be done infrequently, there are some other reasons that bring about coughs that stick around for longer than usual.
1. What Causes Coughs?
- For clearance of throat
Coughs are a basic form that we used to clear our throats. The reason why our throats need clearing is because they can tend to become congested with either phlegm or other unfamiliar particles that result from smoke and dust and obstruct our breathing process. This is why the throat is cleared with a cough – in order to breathe easily. While this type may be infrequent, its frequency can increase with increased exposure to said irritants.
- Bacteria and Viruses
Viruses like the cold and flu are respiratory tract infections that result in frequent coughs. These can last anywhere from a few days to a week or two.
This is the second most frequent cause of coughing. What is generally termed as a ‘smokers cough’ has a distinct sound to it and can be recognized very easily.
This cause for coughs exists in young children. The fact that coughs induced by asthma are accompanied with wheezing make it easier to identify it. If the severity is high enough, the doctor may advise the use of an inhaler to keep things under control.
Some medications that are used to treat a high blood pressure and heart conditions can result in coughing. However, the coughing stops upon discontinuing use of said medicines.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
GERD is another commonly found cause for coughs, wherein the contents of ones stomach backflow into the esophagus, which triggers coughing.
- Other reasons
Other reasons for coughing include postnasal drip, pneumonia, and serious severe problems like pulmonary embolism or heart failure.
2. Types Of Coughs
There exist two basic types of coughs: productive and unproductive. Productive coughs is the term given to coughs that produce surplus phlegm, and are generally described as chesty and mucus-filled.
The second type, unproductive coughs, is when there is no phlegm produced and are best described as dry.
2.1) Dry Cough (Tickly Cough)
Dry coughs are caused by an inflammation of the upper airways. There is no mucus or phlegm produced. A dry cough can be caused by infections such as a cold or the flu. These types of coughs can also be triggered by other environmental irritants such as fumes, dust or cigarette smoke.
Dry coughs can be extremely painful due to their intensity, and most people even try to avoid coughing due to the pain that it will cause them. Dry coughs are best felt in the throat, instead of being felt in the chest like chesty coughs.
An inflammation existing in the upper airways is what leads to a dry cough. As mentioned above, these coughs do not produce any mucus whatsoever. Dry coughs can also come about due to infections like the flu, and are also provoked by pollutants in the environment such as dust and fumes.
2.2) Fat Cough (Cough with Phlegm)
To understand the excess production of mucus, it is important to first understand its use in our body. Mucus essentially acts as a filter for the lungs, trapping outside particles in its hold and not letting them cause harm to the lungs by entering it. So, when you fall sick, your lungs start to produce more phlegm in order to capture said bacteria. This extra mucus that is produced can get caught in the respiratory system and this triggers a cough.
3. Chronic Coughs
A chronic cough, also known as long-term coughs, are those that stick around for longer than we’d expect them to, and with good reason. Some symptoms of a chronic cough include a runny nose, postnasal drip (the sensation of liquid dripping down your throat), a sore throat and wheezing.
A cough that stays around for weeks happens due to an underlying medical problem, some of which include asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, infections and the use of drugs to keep a high blood pressure under control.
4. About Hay Fever
Hay fever, which is the term given to seasonal allergies, has symptoms like endless sneezing, itchy eyes along with a runny nose and coughing. This kind of coughing happens when your body does not like the presence of specific particles and thinks of them as alien invaders. These foreign particles that the body upsets itself over are called allergens, and include a range of particles going from pollens to mold spores.
Having a hay fever cough means that you are enduring the aftermath of postnasal drip. Postnasal drip plays a role in allergy coughs such that the irritation that is caused in the lining of the nose due to allergens causes an increased production of phlegm in the nasal passages. It is this mucus that not only causes a runny nose but also runs down the back of your throat, causing hay fever cough.
When our body is naked to said allergens, it releases a substance called histamines. Histamines serve to protect our body from any harm that could be caused to it, and they are also what trigger these allergy symptoms.
Symptoms of hay fever include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sinus pain and watery eyes to state the most common. These symptoms are seasonal, so this makes them distinct enough to be recognized easily.
However, some allergens exist all around the year too. These allergens could be anywhere from cockroaches to spores from fungi to dust mites.
5. What is Asthma Cough?
As you read above, asthma is another cause of coughs. When a person who suffers from asthma is exposed to allergens, it can cause their airways to constrict, which is exactly what leads to wheezing.
Another type of asthma, called cough-variant asthma has the usual symptoms of a dry unproductive cough. The fact that this type of asthma has no other usual asthma symptoms like lack of breath or wheezing is what differs it from the rest.
The causes behind cough-variant asthma are unknown, but studies show that it is triggered usually in the cases where the individual either breathes in cold air or is exposed to an allergen.
6. Coughs in Infants
Coughs in infant’s means that their bodies are trying to rid themselves of either irritants or particles that are alien to it. However, the most common causes include:
Infections like colds and flus can all cause coughs that tend to linger in kids.
- Acid reflux
Symptoms of acid reflux in infants range from coughing to vomiting to uncomfortable heart burn. While this problem can be solved with the removal of some foods like spicy foods from their diets, if the problem still persists, then it is advisable to visit a doctor.
Allergies result in not just a persistent cough, but they also bring with themselves a runny nose and an itchy throat. If you feel that your child is suffering from allergies, then it is good to visit a doctor and learn more about how to avoid the allergens that trigger your child.
7. Night Coughing
Night cough, also known as night tussis, is the kind of cough that usually bothers you only towards nightfall. Essentially, we cough to keep our airways clean. So, night cough itself could be a symptom of other complications that are directly affecting your lungs and throat. Or, as in most cases, it could be something as simple as a cold or a flu.
One of the main causes of night cough is smoking. Those who smoke have their lungs producing an extra amount of mucus which gets trapped in their airways. This is why they frequently cough in order to clear them up.
Other reasons for night coughs include allergies, acute bronchitis, croup, pneumonia and postnasal drip.
8. Coughs Caused By a Virus
Symptoms of a cough caused by virus include fever, body aches and pains. Coughs caused by a virus generally clear by themselves after lasting for a couple of days. The reason why it lasts a couple of days is because the inflamed airways take some time to clear up.
9. Common Coughing Symptoms Explained
Here is a list of the most common coughing symptoms explained in detail.
9.1) Itchy Throat Coughing
The reason why this symptom arises is because your throat gets irritated of some foreign symptoms, leading to coughs. Reasons behind the irritation include allergies, irritants like smoke and dust that exist in the environment or a general infection. In rare cases, the itchy throat coughs are a symptom for a long-term complication.
Itchy throats that result from allergies usually bring with themselves a runny nose and watery eyes. Why an allergy causes an itchy throat is due to the inhalation of allergens like pollen, which ignite an immune response in the body.
Another cause of itchy throat coughs is a common infection like a cold. A cold causes postnasal drop, which runs down the back of the throat, triggering coughs.
Irritants like smoke and dust in the atmosphere can irritate the throat and bring about a reflex response of coughing. Inhalation of these particles cause inflammation in the lining of the throat.
Other rare causes for this type of cough are asthma, tuberculosis, and thyroid disease. These diseases do however bring with themselves their own different set of symptoms that make identification easier.
9.2) Coughing Yellow Mucus
The most common and widespread cause of this kind of cough is a cold or a flu. However, there do exist other causes like bronchitis and pneumonia. One of the main symptoms of bronchitis, which is the inflammation of the main airways in the lungs, is the coughing up of yellow phlegm. It does come with other symptoms though, like a fever and a sore throat.
How pneumonia causes the excretion of yellow colored mucus is that the air sacs in the lungs that get filled with phlegm, release these fluids upon coughing. Pneumonia comes with another symptom of shortness of breath.
Allergic reactions, too, lead to the coughing up of yellow mucus.
Asthma comes about due to respiratory inflammation, which leads to an excess production of mucus that is yellow in color. The frequent coughs that come with asthma can sometimes bring with itself a companion of yellow phlegm.
- Lung cancer
While this is extremely rare, an underlying cause of the yellow mucus could be lung cancer. Visit the doctor if you have persistent chest pain that has been around for more than two weeks. It is a greater cause for concern if the mucus turns bloody.
9.3) Coughing up Green Mucus
How phlegm gets its green shade is due to the presence of myeloperoxidases in the white blood cells. There is an accumulation of white blood cells upon an infection caused by bacteria, and then it proceeds to release Myeloperoxidase (MPO), which turn the color of phlegm green.
Conditions that cause green mucus are sinusitis, an infection in the membranes of the nose, or an infection in the bronchial lining. However, if the infection is simply caused by bacteria, there may be other symptoms like a congested nose or a high fever. In some rare cases, green phlegm could be a symptom of serious problems like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
9.4) Coughing up Blood
Coughing up blood is not something to be taken lightly, as it is almost always a symptom of serious problems like a bad infection, cancer or a problem in the lungs themselves. Unless you have bronchitis diagnosed and are coughing up blood because of it, your hemoptysis (coughing blood) needs to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.
Blood in your mucus can also come about from bleeding that takes place outside the lungs. For instance, severe nosebleeds could result in blood dripping down to the windpipe, resulting in blood-stained mucus.
10. Preventing Coughs
While there exist no foolproof ways to ‘prevent’ coughs, you can take some measures that will put you at a lesser risk of acquiring it. For instance:
- wash your hands or sanitize them as much as possible,
- stay away from becoming a passive smoker, that is, inhaling second hand smoke,
- increase your fluid consumption,
- avoid those that suffer from a cold or a flu,
11. Know When to Seek Medical Care
The most common cases of coughs will either disappear completely or substantially improve within a timespan of two weeks. However, if you have a cough that lingers for longer, then you might be a victim to some other serious problem and should seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you are also getting severe chest pains along with cough fits, it is a great cause for concern.
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