Coughing, although annoying, is a reflex that is vital to keeping your throat and airways clear. It helps your body to protect and heal itself from infections. Coughs are classified as either acute or chronic. Acute coughs have a sudden onset and last no longer than two or three weeks. Chronic coughs last longer than two to three weeks. Causes of chronic coughs range from asthma and allergies to smoking and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
When you have a cough, it is a symptom of other conditions or diseases. It can indicate a full range of diseases and conditions, depending on whether your cough produces mucus or septum, the color of what you are coughing up, shortness of breath or wheezing, duration your cough has lasted, and a myriad of other factors. Most commonly, the cough is a symptom of the common cold or allergies, but it can sometimes be indicative of more serious problems such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Who is at risk?
- Those experiencing the cold or flu
- Those with allergies
- Those with pulmonary (lung) diseases
- People who smoke
- Anyone with throat disorders
- Those with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
The easiest treatment for a cough is to drink water or take a steamy shower. Using vaporizers or humidifiers may also ease your symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines and cough medicine may help if you have the cold or flu. You should carefully read labels and consult a physician when giving cough medicine to small children.
Emergency Warning Signs: When should I see a doctor?
- If you suffer from a pulmonary disease such as COPD or asthma
- If you are coughing up blood or sebum
- If your cough lasts longer than 2 or 3 weeks
- If you are at risk for infection or suspect an infection