Mind & Body
Coughs: What Could You Be Missing?
5/31/2018 10:30:27 AM
Coughs

As annoying as it can be, coughing is a valuable weapon in the body’s self-defense arsenal. Coughing keeps airways clear by quickly expelling intruders from the lower respiratory system, primarily the throat and upper lungs. If dust, fluid, viruses, bacteria, or other substances irritate or block any part of this region, the cough reflex takes immediate action.

"A cough may be triggered by a tickle of dust or water that goes down the wrong way,” explains Fadi Malek, MD, pulmonologist with West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital’s Pulmonology Clinic. "When this happens, the muscles of your throat and chest contract and expel the blockage or irritant in a rush of air and mucus at speeds approaching 600 miles per hour. This reflex originates in a special cough center in the brain. Nerve endings that line the body’s airways react to obstructions by sending signals to the cough center, which fires back an order to the muscles to cough up the offensive substance.”

Coughs are almost always symptoms of a larger problem. Those occurring in conjunction with a nasal drainage or fever point to a respiratory tract infection or more serious condition. Coughs can also result from an asthma attack, chronic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose) and even as a side effect of medications (especially those for blood pressure).

There are two basic types of coughs: productive and nonproductive. Productive coughs bring up mucus, often generated by a bacterial or viral infection. "Lining your bronchial tubes are mucous glands and small hairs called cilia,” Dr. Malek explains. "Normally, the glands secrete a little mucus to help catch debris when you’re breathing, and the cilia help brush it all out. But when stimulated by infection, the glands become inflamed and produce extra mucus that is expelled with a productive cough.”

A nonproductive cough is usually caused by an irritated throat and expels little if any mucus. Also referred to as a "dry cough,” this type of cough is usually chronic and can be caused by asthma, smoking, allergies, or congestive heart failure.

It’s always best to ask your doctor about specific cough medications for your condition, but in general, an expectorant cough medicine is used to help thin mucus so it can be cleared more easily from your lungs.

You’ll probably want to suppress a dry cough, on the other hand, especially if you’re uncomfortable or having trouble sleeping. Unless your cough is caused by asthma – treatable with an inhaler – you’ll likely need an antitussive cough medication. Those with codeine are generally most effective, but codeine can be addictive and cause side effects such as constipation and drowsiness. Talk to your doctor to find out what medication is right for you and beware of buying over-the-counter cough medications that are labeled "expectorant” and "suppressant.”  The active ingredients would counteract each other and provide you with no relief of any symptom.

Whether you take a cough medicine or not, drink plenty of fluids, especially hot ones, to help loosen mucus and keep the airways moist. And because a cough expels germs, always cover your mouth with a disposable tissue. It’s important to remember that treating the cough doesn’t treat the problem behind it. If your cough persists for more than a week, is accompanied by fever or other symptoms, or produces blood, see your doctor immediately.

For more information about coughs or any pulmonary issue, call the West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital Pulmonology Clinic at 337-313-1621.
Posted by: Christine Fisher | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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