What is a cough?
A cough can be a voluntary or involuntary action or reflex that clears the throat and airways to get rid of irritants, fluids, mucus or microbes. A cough may be a sign of an illness but it will usually go away by itself within three weeks. If a cough is difficult to diagnose then a chest X-ray may be necessary.
There are three phases to a cough, the first is inhalation, the second is increased pressure in the throat and lungs with the vocal cords closed and the third is an explosive release of air when the vocal cords open.
What causes a cough?
An acute (short-term) cough may be caused by:
- Common cold
A chronic cough may be caused by:
Diagnosis of a chronic cough
If a cough lasts longer than three weeks and has not improved, it is best to visit a doctor, who may run diagnostic tests, such as a chest X-ray and send a sample of phlegm to a laboratory to be analysed.
Treatment of a chronic cough
Determining the cause of a chronic cough is important for effective treatment. There may be more than one underlying condition that is causing the cough. Medications that may be used to treat chronic cough can include:
- Antihistamines and decongestants – which are allergy-related drugs.
- Asthma drugs to be inhaled – the most effective treatment for asthma-related coughs are bronchodilators to reduce inflammation and open the airways.
- Antibiotics – these are prescribed if there is a bacterial infection causing the chronic cough.
- Acid blockers – if caused by acid reflux, you may be provided with medications that block acid production.
- Cough suppressants – which can be prescribed over the counter, although there is little evidence to show that these are effective.
Home remedies to help with a cough
The following tips will help to ease a persistent cough:
- Drinking plenty of fluids – water and warm liquids such as broth, tea or juice can soothe the throat and help thin the mucus.
- Cough drops – these may soothe an irritated throat.
- A humidifier or steamy shower – as moisturised air helps.
- Avoid smoking – as this irritates the lungs and can make the cough worse.