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Cough - Causes, Treatment and When to See a Doctor

A cough is a natural reflex for removing phlegm, foreign objects and infections from the respiratory tract and lungs. In most cases, the treatment will not focus on the cough itself, but rather the cause of it.

The two main types are a "dry cough" that doesn't produce phlegm and a "chesty cough" that occurs when phlegm is produced as a means of clearing the airways.

Another type is an acute cough caused by acute illness. This cough can last for up to three weeks. A cough that lasts longer will be determined as a chronic cough.

What causes a cough?

There are a many things that can trigger a cough, common causes include -

  • Cigarettes: smoking destroys the delicate screening mechanism of the lung. Close to 90% of particles inhaled by smoking a cigarette remain in the respiratory tract and lung tissue.
    The trachea has small hairs called cilia. Their function is to filter and capture particulates in the air inhaled into the lungs and to remove them from the body. Smokers destroy most of their cilia, therefore many particles remain along the trachea. This causes irritation that activates the cough reflex in an effort to clear your lungs. In some cases, the smoker develops a lung disease, causing shortness of breath, and a chronic cough.
  • Medication side effects.
  • Asthma.
  • Bronchiectasis.
  • Post-nasal drip: a condition when mucus drips down the throat from the back of the nose. In many cases, it is caused by sinusitis or chronic allergic rhinitis.
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: stomach acid that leaks irritates the throat and causes a cough.

How can I treat a cough?

The treatment depends on the cause and type of cough. In cases where no clear cause was found or the treatment suggested was not effective, you can take medication to relieve the cough. The medication may include antihistamines, antibiotics, cough suppressants and more.

While coughing is a common symptom, persistent cough that is not accompanied by other symptoms related to the respiratory system requires further medical examination such as chest x-ray or CT scan.

When should you visit premier?

Usually, there is no need for medical treatment for a cough that lasts up to 2 weeks. However, you should seek medical attention if any of the following occurs:

  • The cough lasts for over 2 weeks.
  • Cough accompanied by blood.
  • Cough accompanied by thick phlegm.
  • Severe cough.
  • Patients with diabetes or high blood pressure.

Also, visit your nearest Premier or call 911 if you experience any of the following symptoms along with your cough:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fever.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Neck swelling.
  • Body aches.
  • Chills.
  • Sweating.
  • Wheezing.