Coughing is a natural phenomenon that gets rid of foreign material or mucus from your throat and upper airways in order to keep them clear. However, coughing too much may be an indication that you have a disorder or disease. This article covers areas such as different types of coughs, their causes, and the treatments for those. You questions such as How did I get a cough?, Why does my chest hurt when I cough?, What can I do to treat my cough, When should I meet my doctor?, etc are answered here. Read further to know.
Types Of Cough
Coughs are of two different types, namely dry cough, tickly cough and chesty cough. A dry cough and tickly coughs do not produce any mucus or sputum or phlegm; whereas a chesty cough, also known as productive cough or mucus cough is the result of an excessive quantity of mucus in the chest. Further coughs can be acute or chronic. Acute coughs commence suddenly and are usually due to a cold, sinus infection, or flu. Acute coughs generally fade away after 3 weeks; whereas the chronic coughs are persistent, lasting for more than 3 weeks. Apart from the chronic and acute coughs, there is also the sub-acute cough, which lasts between 3 to 8 weeks.
1. Chesty Cough
Doctors call it ‘productive cough’ as it produces or brings up sputum from the chest. The air passages that we breathe through are called bronchi and bronchioles. These passages are lined with mucous membranes that produce mucus to cover the inner surface of the tubes. This mucus lining traps foreign elements such as viruses, bacteria and dust that enters the respiratory tract, and thus protects the body from those.
When the viruses that causes common cold or flu gains entry into the respiratory system, the membranes start producing an increased amount of mucous in an attempt to wash the foreign substances away. This mucus collects in the respiratory system. This triggers a cough reflex in order to remove the extra mucus. When you have prolonged cough, you experience pain when coughing.
- Infection of flu and common cold viruses- These are the most common causative agents of chesty coughs.
- Other lung infections- Other infections such as pneumonia, TB, etc can also cause chesty coughs.
- Other medical conditions- A variety of medical conditions such as chronic bronchitis, obstructive airways disease, cystic fibrosis, etc lead to chesty coughs.
- Smoking- Upon exposure to cigarette smoke for a long duration, the lungs get irritated, the cell structure in the respiratory tract undergoes changes, and this leads to over production of mucus.
Chesty cough usually will exhibit the following symptoms.
- Sore throat- You get a sore throat due to the irritation caused by excessive mucus on your throat’s lining. This can be quite painful.
- Pain in chest- You experience a pain in your chest when you cough. You may wonder, Why does my chest hurt when I cough? This is because your muscles get strained due to prolonged coughing. In extreme and very rare cases, even ribs get fractured during vigorous prolonged coughing.
- Pain in the abdominal muscles- Because of the strain that coughing exerts on your abdominal muscles, you may experience muscular pain in your abdominal region.
Expectorants are usually prescribed for treating chesty coughs. Expectorants expel the mucus from your chest. These medicines work to thin the mucus, which makes it easy for you to expel the mucus while coughing. This is the major treatment for chesty coughs. Expectorants in the form of herbal as well as English medications are available.
Thyme and Ivy are herbs used as expectorants. English medications that contain guaiphenesin and ammonium chloride are used as expectorants. It is advised that you keep warm, take lots of bed rest, gargle with salt water thrice a day, and drink plenty of water. Taking a hot shower works in breaking down the mucus, which you can easily expel. Further, in order to prevent the spreading of the disease to others, do not shake hands with others, and cover your mouth during coughing or sneeze.
2. Dry Cough
Dry Cough does not produce any mucus or sputum. Most often dry cough is caused by viral infections often stated as flu and common cold. There are many other causative agents of dry cough, and these include-
- Medication side effect- Some medications taken for other problems can cause dry cough, high-pressure relief tablets are one of those.
- Hayfever- Hayfever is an allergic reaction of the body towards the exposure to tree pollen and grass. This creates inflammation in the nose and eyes. At times, this inflammation can get deeper, affecting the chest, which leads to a dry cough.
- Psychological or psychogenic cough- This refers to coughing as a habit. There is no physical associated with it, and the concerned person at most times even does not realize that he is coughing. This kind of cough is no more when the individual falls asleep.
- Stress and anxiety- Quite a lot of people tend to cough when the situations are stressful. This reflex is triggered when your anxiety results in shallow breathing. Some people are more anxious than others, and hence they often experience this kind of nervous cough.
A chronic dry cough can result because of any of the following medical condition.
- Asthma- Asthma is a respiratory disease that inflames and partially blocks your air passages.
- Heart disease- Heart ailments can lead to the failure of heart, and the buildup of fluid in the lungs. This in turn leads to persistent coughing, especially during night times.
- Lung diseases- lung diseases, including lung cancer can also express themselves in the form of persistent coughing.
- Whooping cough- This cough produces as distinctive ‘whoop ‘sound during the act of coughing, and hence the name whooping cough. The causative agent is a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis.
- Tuberculosis- TB is a highly infectious lung disease caused by a bacterium. One of the early symptoms of this disease is a persistent dry cough.
- Finding the underlying cause(s) of dry cough is important for its treatment.
- Some medications like Echinacea can work to reduce the symptoms of common cold by strengthening your immune system.
- Honey is an effective home remedy for treating your sore throat caused by dry coughing.
- Cough suppressants are used to decrease the expression of a cough reflex. These are available with or without the prescription of your doctor at medical stores.
- Spruce extracts and pine shoot extracts are ideal herbal remedies for treating both dry coughs and tickly coughs that come out from the throat.
- Marshmallow and mullein are herbal remedies for dry coughs that come out from the throat and the chest.
- For treating nervous coughs, anti-anxiety treatments are recommended.
When To Seek Medical Help?
Dry coughs that result from viral infections of cold and flu fade away soon. However, you need to seek medical help if:
- You feel or know that you are coughing as a result of a medical condition.
- You find blood in your sputum.
- You feel wheezy or short of breath.
- You notice unexplained weight loss.
- You suffer from asthma, and have dry cough, especially during the night times.
- You find that you have made no improvements within a period of seven days.
- You find yourself tired or lethargic. You suffer from an unexplainable yet persistent dry cough for more than three weeks.
3. Tickly Cough
A tickly cough, just like the dry cough, does not produce any mucus. So, these two types of cough are often known as non-productive coughs. When the throat (pharynx) region experiences an irritation, a tickly cough is triggered to relieve it.
The most common causes of tickly cough are flu and cold viruses. These viruses mainly spread through your hands to your noses and your mouths, and then to your throat and larynx. In cases when the immune system is unable to fight off this infection, the viruses affect the tissues of your larynx, resulting in an inflammation. The larynx does not produce excessive mucus. However, the nerve linings get irritated, which triggers a cough reflex. This type of cough can last for days or even weeks after the seemingly resolved infection.
Multiple triggers including cold air, smoky environment, and pollution can lead to tickly cough. Hay fever can also express itself as tickly coughs. Your body reacts to its exposure to pollens by producing high quantities of histamine, which inflames the respiratory tract which results in a tickly cough.
Since tickly coughs are usually caused by viral infections, they exhibit symptoms that accompany common cold or flu. These include itchy throat, runny nose, or sneezing. Other symptoms of tickly cough includes-
- Sore throat- Since coughing can exert stress upon your throat you are likely to get a sore throat during a tickly cough.
- Abdominal or chest pain- Since constant coughing strains your abdominal muscles, you get abdominal pain. Likewise coughing and chest pain are also associated.
- Sensitivity to certain substances- When you are exposed to certain substances such as cigarette smoke or pollens, they can irritate your respiratory system and thereby worsen your cough.
- Tickly cough that occurs because of common cold or flu viruses is simply an infection symptom. Treating the cold or flu will remove the cough.
- English medicines such as cough suppressants can reduce the cough symptoms.
- Pine shoot extracts and spruce extracts can serve as effective tickly cough remedies for those coughs that come out of the throat.
- Honey is an excellent home remedy to treat sore throat.
- Avoid smoky, damp, and closed in atmospheres as they trigger tickly coughs.
How To Keep Your Respiratory System Healthy?
A healthy respiratory system ensures that you fight off cough and other related respiratory illnesses. The respiratory system or the respiratory tract includes all the organs and tissues from your mouth and nose to your lungs. This respiratory tract facilitates the exchange of gases within the body. That is, the absorption and transportation of oxygen around the body, and the removal of carbon dioxide from the body.
Breathing is an important physiological phenomenon that the respiratory system performs. This phenomenon enables the maintenance of the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream. It is estimated that an average adult takes approximately twelve to twenty breaths per minute. This adds to more than seven hundred million breaths in one’s lifetime. Such is the importance of the respiratory system. Here is how you can keep your respiratory system hale and healthy-
- Exercise regularly- A regular exercise routine aids in improving your heart rates as well as breathing.
- Quit smoking- Smoking is one of the most devastating thing to your respiratory tract. It renders the mucous ling of your respiratory tract ineffective by contaminating it. If you are in the habit of smoking, take efforts to quit smoking.
- Plant trees- Planting trees and plants in the premises of your home and office has a strong favorable impact on your respiratory system. Plants inhale the carbon dioxide in the environment and exhales oxygen for you to breathe.
- Avoid pet hair and dust- These particles float in the air and is inhaled into your lungs, which causes irritation and inflammation.
- Drink plenty of water- Water has a natural property to flush toxins out of your system to keep it healthy. It also works to prevent the contamination or thickening of the mucus lining of your respiratory system.
- Take a balanced diet- This keeps you healthy, and strengthens your respiratory system.
Boosting Your Body’s Immune System
The immune system is your body’s defense mechanism that fights against the disease causing agents entering it. You can strengthen it by
- Getting adequate sleep
- Working out regularly
- Washing your hands frequently
- Beating up stress
- Avoiding smoking
- Avoiding alcohol
- Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds
- Exposing yourself to early morning sun rays that supply your body with vitamin D