- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Respiratory Diseases; What´s a cough?
A Cough Keeps the Respiratory System Clean
A cough is a vigorous release of air from the lungs. Coughing keeps the respiratory system clear of irritants and helps the body heal and protect itself. A cough is usually initiated when an irritant stimulates the cough receptors found in the respiratory system. Normally, people cough once or twice every hour on a single day; however, when the air is contaminated with irritants or the respiratory system becomes infected, coughing may be more frequent, causing discomfort. A cough usually lasts from one to two weeks and stops when the irritant or infection subsides. A chronic cough usually lasts more than three weeks
A cough can be described as either dry or productive. A dry cough does not bring up mucus and other substances from the lungs, while a productive cough does. Mucus is also known as phlegm or sputum. If the sputum brought up by a productive cough is gray or brown, it can be due to a bacterial infection. In the presence of an allergy or a viral infection, it can be clear or white. In a most serious condition, the sputum may be accompanied with blood.
The Major Cause of a Cough
The major cause of a cough is due to the common cold or the flu. Other common causes include cigarette smoking or exposure to second hand smoke, air pollutants, allergies and asthma, sinusitis leading to postnasal drip, lung infections, including pneumonia or acute bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis), tuberculosis, gastroesophageal disease (GERD), a cough can also be triggered by medications administered via an inhaler. It can also be a side effect of beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors (drugs used to control high blood pressure).
A physician usually takes a medical history examination of the patient. The duration of a cough, as well as the accompanying symptoms and the environmental factors will help the health professional diagnose the condition. The doctor may examine the sputum under a microscope to determine the type of infection and he may also perform a chest x ray exam to determine the extent of infections, such as tuberculosis or pneumonia. Other tests, including a bronchoscopy or laryngoscopy may be performed, as well.
Treating a Cold
Treating a cough usually involves addressing the condition that is causing it. Antibiotics may be given for a condition such as pneumonia. Whereas bronchodilators may be required for an asthma-induced cough. Antihistamines may be administered for an allergy. Decongestants aid at clearing a runny nose and relieve postnasal drip. Antitussives can help relieve a cold, while expectorants can help at coughing up easier.
It is advised to increase the intake of fluids and breathe warm, humidified air to loosen chest congestion. It is recommended to avoid mucus-producing foods, such as dairy products, sugar and foods high in sodium. It is advised not to use cold or cough drugs in children under the age of six, as they may have side effects. Consult your health care provider before giving over-the counter medications to your child.
Before treating a cold, it is very important to identify and treat the origin of the cough. To prevent developing a cough, avoid coming in direct contact with individuals experiencing the symptoms of the common cold or the flu. Stay indoors when airborne allergens are high in the environment. Wash your hands frequently during periods of upper respiratory infections. Consult your health care professional if your cough has lasted longer than three weeks or your cough is producing blood.