How many bottles of cough medicine did you buy last winter? Do you usually carry a package of cough drops? A cough may seem like a common thing, you just dose it and ignore it. Don’t do that. Your cough, if it is a chronic one, may be serious.

Has your cough been hanging around for a month or more? Then you may have a chronic cough. It doesn’t matter that you cough only in the morning when you get up, or only at night when you lie down. If you have been coughing for more than a month your cough is chronic.


What About Short-term Coughs?

Just about everybody coughs from time to time. The common cold, for instance, is often followed by a cough that can last two to three weeks. If your cough, following a cold, hangs on longer than usual, it may be developing into a chronic cough.

If there is shortness of breath with a cough, or any pain, or blood when you cough, you should see your physician immediately, even though your cough may not have lasted more than a few days.


Causes And Symptoms

In the majority of cases, coughs are caused by respiratory infections. Environmental pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, dust, or smog, can also cause a cough. In the case of cigarette smokers, the nicotine present in the smoke paralyzes the hairs (cilia) that regularly flush mucus from the respiratory system. The mucus then builds up, forcing the body to remove it by coughing. Postnasal drip, the irritating trickle of mucus from the nasal passages into the throat caused by allergies or sinusitis, can also result in a cough. Some chronic conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cystic fibrosis are characterized in part by a cough. A condition in which the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus may also cause coughing, especially when a person in lying down. A cough can also be a side effect of beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors, which are drugs used to treat high blood pressure.


What About Smoking?

Do you smoke a pack or more of cigarettes a day? If you do you are considered a heavy smoker. Heavy cigarette smoking can cause a chronic cough.

Don’t dismiss a cough that hangs on as “just a cigarette cough.” That cigarette cough is serious in itself. It means that your smoking has already damaged your breathing passages. In fact, the smoker who coughs is the person most likely to get emphysema, or lung cancer.

You may be so used to your cigarette cough that you can’t tell when your cough has changed. Are you coughing more than you used to? For a longer time? Or has your cough changed in character? Maybe you’re coughing up streaks of blood or more phlegm. Any of these happenings may be a sign that something is wrong.


Chronic Cough Is A Symptom

A chronic cough is not a disease. It is a sign of something wrong with the breathing system. That’s why it isn’t smart to take cough medicine for more than a week or two, unless your physician tells you to. Medicine may help with the cough, but meanwhile the underlying illness may be steadily getting worse.

The most likely causes of a chronic cough are: lung cancer, bronchitis (inflammation in the lung tubes), bronchiectasis (pus pockets form along the breathing tubes), tuberculosis, and many other lung diseases.


Nutrition And Diet

Many health practioners advise increasing fluid intake. Avoiding mucus producing foods can be effective in healing a coughing condition. These mucus-producing foods may vary, based on individual intolerance, but dairy products are a major mucus producing food for most people. Other foods to avoid are sugar and foods high in sodium.


Why Go To The Doctor?

The instant you realize you may have a chronic cough go to your physician. The physician can order a number of tests to find out if lung disease is causing your cough. Then he or she may start treatment early in the game. That is when most lung diseases can be dealt with successfully. If you’re coughing too much, find out why. It may be something minor or it may be serious. Until you know for sure, it’s nothing to fool around with or neglect. Be sure —- or you may be sorry!

The Waynedale News Staff
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William Smits M.D., Kevin Letz N.D., and Jeannie Giese N.P.

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