Coughing is a natural bodily reflex that is designed to help protect us, as it helps remove pathogens and other substances (such as food or dirt) that don’t belong in your lungs and airways. This is your body’s way of indicating that something is wrong, even if it’s just a minor condition. While coughing can be a symptom of a minor, harmless condition such as throat irritation or allergies, it could also be a sign of a more serious health problem.
More than 30 million people see a doctor each year because of coughing, so it’s no wonder coughing is the top reason why many see a specialist. While coughing is thought of as a symptom, not as a disease in itself, it is still important to know the different types and the symptoms associated with the different types of coughs.
These coughs typically last up to 3 weeks, and can either be productive (mucus producing) or non-productive (no mucus, dry). In these cases, treating the cough is not the answer, but treating the underlying problem. For example, if your cough is associated with having pneumonia, you would then be prescribed an antibiotic in order to treat the infection. These coughs are usually triggered by the following illnesses:
• Sinus infection
• Pulmonary embolism
• Whooping cough
These types of coughs typically last between 3 to 8 weeks, and may need to be evaluated by a doctor depending on the severity of the symptoms. However, with this cough there is a good chance that it will resolve itself. Common causes include:
• Cough-variant asthma
• Post-infectious cough
• Post-nasal drip
• Eosinophilic bronchitis
These types of coughs can last longer than 8 weeks, and can be difficult to pinpoint. In order to help pinpoint the specific cause of your cough, your doctor might have to run several tests. Here are some of the common causes of chronic cough:
• Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
• Post-nasal drip
• Heart Failure
• Lung Cancer
While knowing the difference between a normal and abnormal cough is helpful, if your cough doesn’t improve after a week it’s time to see a specialist. In addition, if you experience any of the symptoms below, get to your doctor as soon as possible.
• Your cough negatively interferes with your daily life
• You are experiencing ongoing heartburn
• You have shortness of breath, or trouble sleeping
• You are experiencing chest pain
• You have trouble sleeping
• You experience night sweats or are running a high fever
• You are coughing up blood