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A cough is natural organism’s reflex, which appears suddenly and often repetitively to clear the throat from foreign or unwanted substances. There are several categories of this natural reflex, which are based on its character, timing and duration. The most common causes of frequent cough include viral or bacterial infections and air pollution. Majority of the incidents will relieve or become barely noticeable after 14 days, however when caused by serious condition, it can be severe and continue for longer than 3 weeks. In those cases, professional healthcare is strongly recommended.
This type of symptom can be divided into few different categories, based on 2 main factors. First and most important one of them include duration. The cough can be:
- Acute – if continues for less than 3 weeks.
- Subacute – lasts up to 8 weeks
- Chronic – continues for longer than 8 weeks.
Another factor is the cough characteristic. It might be dry, also called as non-productive, or wet, when the mucus is being constantly coughed out. Timing is taken into consideration as well, since it may appear at night, leading to e.g. insomnia, or simply come into view throughout the day.
There are several disorders and environmental factors, which can trigger this type of body reflex, whereas the cough seriousness depends on the underlying disease. Excluding cough activated due to foreign particles, dust, smoke or air pollution, the most common causes are:
- Viral and bacterial infections, such as common cold or influenza.
- Smoking, which is usually causing a chronic type
- Asthma, present especially in children
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), which is irritatating the throat.
- Lung tumors
One of the most effective self-care method is to use cough drops, since they are great in soothing the throat. Proper hydration and high humidity of the air should also be maintained. It is recommended to drink a lot of fluids and use air humidifier or to simple take a hot shower. Furthermore, adding a small spoon of honey or a little portion of ginger straight to the hot tea is also beneficial for the throat. One have to bear in mind, that smoking and dusty air need to be avoided at all cost.
This type of ailment most frequently does not require any specific treatment. Self-care methods are effective enough to mitigate the cough in adults and children above 6 years old. However, if cough is severe or continues for a longer period of time, professional approach is required. A doctor will focus on the underlying disease and prescribe, for instance, inhalers for asthma and cough suppressants for other incidents. Those suppressants may include substances like codeine, dextromethorphan or pholcodine, however their effectiveness is being constantly disputed by a scientists.
When left untreated, this condition in extreme cases can lead to various complications, such as headaches, ribs fractures, vomiting, involuntary defecation or urination. Fainting (cough syncope), which is caused by reduced blood flow in the head, may also appear.
When to see a doctor
This particular symptom may be associated with serious disorders as well, even though such incidents are in greater minority. Consultation with healthcare professionals is recommended, if one or more of those features appear:
- Cough that lasts constantly for longer than 3 weeks
- Loud wheezing during breathing
- Moderate or significant breathing difficulties
- Shortness of breath
- High fever
Immediate medical intervention is required, when cough lead to choking, chest pain, severe headache, heavy difficulties during breathing or coughing up blood.