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What Causes a Cough?

Cigarette smoke and other environmental pollutants contribute to coughing.
A medical professional may examine a chest X-ray for indications of what might be causing a patient's cough.
Chronic coughing may lead to serious health conditions.
Antihistamines can be used to treat a frequent dry cough.
Cough syrup may be used to treat a cough.
Article Details
  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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There is nothing more irritating to have than a reoccurring cough. It can be the cause of much embarrassment and appear when we would least like it to. With the amount of pollutants now present in the air, the possible causes of the cough are wide ranging.

Throughout the day, people are exposed to numerous particles of dust, fumes and germs. Our living space can be polluted with tobacco smoke, car exhaust fumes and airborne infections. With all of these pollutants, it is a wonder that we are not continually coughing 24 hours a day.

There are two main types of cough, dry and chesty. The cough is an involuntary action by the brain to clear a blockage or irritant from the body’s airways. A cough may also be due to a viral infection such as the flu or common cold.

The dry cough is often seen as the less productive of the two types. Whereas the chesty cough brings up phlegm or mucus from the lungs, a dry cough can just seem plain irritating. Many smokers can have a continual dry cough throughout their lives. They see the cough as part of their smoking and, in time, they take it for granted.

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Chronic coughing can sometimes be extremely serious. People who suffer from chronic coughing have been known to break their ribs due to the condition. People who experience chesty coughs that last for more than two weeks should consult a doctor. Coughing that is caused by a cold or flu usually disappears within two weeks; if it does not, it may be a symptom of a more serious problem.

If coughing lasts for more than two weeks, x-rays may be necessary to diagnose the problem. The coughing could be a sign of bronchial problems or pneumonia. Phlegm that has been coughed up will also be analyzed to help the doctor make an accurate diagnosis. The main treatment is usually antibiotic medicine.

The most common treatment for coughing is cough medicine. Some experts believe this medicine to have no more than a placebo effect. Ingredients in the medicine are usually honey, syrup and sugar. These coat the throat and relieve the irritation.

There are also medicines that are used to suppress a cough. These cause the brain to repress the signal that causes coughing. These medications are usually antihistamines, which can be used for dry coughs only and may sometimes cause drowsiness after ingestion.

It is very rare for coughing to be a symptom of something more serious. However, chronic coughing over a period of more than two weeks should be looked into by a medical expert.

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Discuss this Article

anon345322
Post 17

My name is Keshav. I have been suffering from a cough for the past five years. It is not continuous, but I never know when it will start and when it will stop. This problem stops for about three or four months during the year, so it is not continuous. My doctor advised I have all tests, like for TB and throat cancer, and allergies. One doctor advised me when the season changed, my throat gets congestion. Is this true? This coughing problem does not happen at night. Please provide me with a solution or any opinion about this problem, or provide me more information about the disease.

saajit
Post 16

My name is Saajit. I am 23 years old and I am a smoker. For three weeks, my left chest has felt heavy and I've had shortness of breath. I went to a clinic for a blood and cough test. The doctor said nothing and I had an ECG and X-ray, and everything is normal. The doctor gave me cough syrup but still I am feeling the same and feeling pain in the chest also. I want to know what kind of problem this is and what I have to do. Help me.

anon329504
Post 15

I am a 22 year old female. I have been suffering from chronic coughing for two months. This problem takes place regularly in the morning when I wake up, and also when I eat some cool stuff like curds. Please help me. Tell me what to do.

anon317416
Post 14

@anon73573: I'm asthmatic and get a cough every winter because of it. For me, it isn't that severe, an inhaler usually helps and I play enough football to say I can run better than a lot of people without asthma (and that's without coughing). Don't worry about your 3 year old too much if it turns out to be the same thing. He'll just dislike winter and cross country.

anon281935
Post 13

I'm a 29 male and have had a whooping cough for over six weeks. My GP put me on Amoxicillin for one week with no affect. The GP says I have to wait three months for a referral for a chest x-ray because I have asthma and 'I'm prone to coughs with this condition.' NHS Direct were useless, wanting to send me to a walk in nurse clinic when I live with a nurse and know what I need. Think I'll have to wait in A&E for six hours to be seen for someone to take this seriously. --Darren

anon266757
Post 12

@help590, Post 6: Yeah, I have the same thing you. have. I've tried lots of medicine.

anon150901
Post 11

Why does a flu or cold cause coughing?

anon146480
Post 10

to help590: You might have Bronchial Asthma. try primatene for relief.

anon129360
Post 9

I have had a continuous cough for over three years. I think it may be from Acid Reflux and Gerd trouble. Not have been on prescribed meds for these in about the same time, and have been using various OTC remedies. I read up on aloe vera juice and want to try this as the meds will cause week bones.

I also suffer from fibromyalgea and this may too be the culprit. Chest pain, heaviness, cough more when a cold is likely, bending down, cold things like ice cream and air.

anon102579
Post 8

I'm 65 years old and I smoke. I've been coughing for years and its very dry. I often cough at night which wakes me up. is there any cough relief or medicine for this?

anon90332
Post 7

I have a dry cough, mainly in the nights, it wakes me up from my sleep. I was diagnosed with saracoid. could this be the cause of the cough?

help590
Post 6

Constantly coughing when I drink cold drinks or breath cold air or talk. It's been two years and I've tried everything the doctor prescribed. Anybody have these types of symptoms? Thank you.

anon73573
Post 5

I have a three year old boy who coughs often. The doc said that he is asthmatic but it was difficult for me to believe because the boy plays and runs a lot without coughing. Because i understand asthmatic people can't run.

Another problem is that he has been told not to take anything with chemicals such as soda, cakes, juice, sweets, lucozades, ribena and all other chemical stuff. i don't for how long the boy will live like this. --anon90

anon69590
Post 4

I am 59 yrs old and have had a productive cough diagnosed two years ago as pneumonia and treated. Yet the cough still persists.

I was coughing constantly. I used antibiotics, which helped but did not get rid of it completely. Doctor said I should repeat the drugs several times, but I can't stop coughing and having phlegm. Any suggestions because it is becoming quite embarrassing and exhausting?

anon67332
Post 3

i am 24 years old and i am suffering from a cough. actually i always drink some medicine for the cough. aside from the dust i also am exposed to smoke because somebody around me uses cigarettes, especially when I'm at the house. that's why i need advice on what i am going to do. can you please give me advice? thank you, doris

Ayaba
Post 2

Hi, I am 39 yrs old and have productive cough diagnosed 2 years ago as pneumonia and treated. Yet the cough still persists. I was coughing constantly. I used antibiotics, which helped but did not get rid of it completely. Doctor said I should repeat the drugs several times, but can't stop coughing and having phlegm. Any suggestions because it is becoming quite embarrassing and exhausting?

anon4319
Post 1

Hi, I am 49 yrs old and have mild asthma diagnosed 2 years ago. Also have allergies which makes me have a chesty cough which is worse in winter. Taking Monteklaust to help with allergies. Coughing constantly and had 1 weeks antibiotics which helped but did not get rid of it completely. Doctor said I didn't need anymore but can't stop coughing. Feeling very chesty. Any suggestions because it is becoming quite embarassing and exhausting.

Thank you

Shirley

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