Why do we cough? Sometimes coughs can be very annoying especially when they persist. What are the causes of coughing? I’m 61-years-old and I’ve coughed and been around coughing a lot. Some coughs are just annoying and some are trying to tell us something.
What is a cough? A cough is actually a reflex. If something touches the back of our throat or larynx it is a good idea to get it out before it gets into our lungs but also the lack of oxygen can cause the same effect. Also something in the lung (such as a growth) can generate the same reflex.
My wife and I have been married 37 years. When we were in our late 20’s we were eating at a restaurant and my wife began to cough. It continued for awhile until we finally left and called a doctor. It turned out to be asthma. Asthma narrows the airways and makes it difficult to get air. The reaction is to cough. I have linked to a slideshow about asthma.
As a smoker in my younger years I would cough primarily from saliva and from accumulated fluids in the morning. I have found more recently that secondhand smoke can do the same thing.
Some additional reasons for coughing are from fluids such as post-nasal drip and sinus fluids. Anyone who has an allergy will cough. The reason is that there are allergens that get in the throat and even lungs and the body tries to get rid of them.
Another cause of a chronic cough may well be infections. Infections that would fall into this category would be bronchitis and pneumonia. It is amazing how long an infection can last.
A problem some of us deal with at night and after we eat is gastro-esophageal reflux. I’ve had it happen and it is scary and painful. The acid from my stomach actually comes into my throat and burns it. Of course I cough involuntarily to get rid of the effect.
Not all chronic coughs are harmless. Many times smokers will develop a chronic condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that is a scarring of the lungs and is made up of an interrelationship of emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis. It is a matter of lack of air flow. While usually treatable it will deteriorate over time.
The biggest concern about a chronic cough is lung cancer. It is stated that most often the cough is “dry” meaning that when a person coughs no sputum or fluids come up. The bad thing about this situation is often the cough is attributed to something else and this symptom is one of the last so by the time it comes along often the lung cancer is advanced.
A chronic cough is our body’s way of trying to protect us; most of the time the situation is not serious. However if the cough does not resolve after a period of time then we should call a doctor.