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Cough Causes

Cough causes can vary widely.

Allergens are a common cause of coughs. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Allergens are a common cause of coughs.

Cough Causes

Cough causes run the gamut from simply ingesting food and air at the same time to a side effect of a very serious or even life-threatening disease. Coughs are not always bad, but they are frequently annoying to the sufferer and can be debilitating. Knowing the cause of a cough is the first step towards suppression and prevention of coughs. It may be necessary to cough to clear the airway or to bring up something lodged in the throat. However, continuous coughs should be observed by a health care professional so that they are accurately diagnosed and correct treatment can be prescribed.

A health care provider will usually treat coughs caused by diseases, but coughs caused by other conditions such as allergens or smoking may only need the irritating element to be removed to stop the cough. Of course, a cough caused by ingesting a foreign body, such as a child swallowing a toy, will stop when the foreign object is removed from the airway.

Coughs Caused by Disease

Many diseases cause a person to cough, sometimes very forcefully, leaving the sufferer weak and fatigued. Common diseases that have cough as one of their main symptoms are:

Whooping cough. Found mostly in children, this highly infectious disease causes coughing fits so fierce that the child may have difficulty breathing during the coughing fits.

  • Asthma. Asthmatics tend to have a non-productive dry cough accompanied by wheezing.
  • Pneumonia. Coughs can be due to any respiratory infection.
  • Tuberculosis. This highly contagious disease causes the sufferer to cough.
  • Common cold or flu. Coughs are known to be associated with colds and flu.
  • Gastroesophagealreflux disease (GERD). Stomach acid will flow back into the throat and cause irritation that leads to coughing fits; it is believed that almost half the people suffering a cough caused by this condition have no symptoms.
  • Bronchiectasis. Coughs associated with this disease of the lungs may contain blood or discolored sputum.
  • Lung cancer. Only a fraction of those with chronic cough have lung cancer.
  • Chronic bronchitis. Chronic cough associated with chronic bronchitis is often indicative of damage to the lungs and bronchial tubes.

A health care provider should be consulted as soon as possible, if any of these diseases are suspected or if coughing persists for more than just a few days. A persistent cough is often the result of an underlying problem.

Coughs Due to Drugs

Some drugs, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors have been known to cause chronic cough in approximately 20 percent of the patients who take them, according to the Mayo Clinic. If a cough develops after starting a new drug, seek advice from a health care professional.

Cough Caused by Postnasal Drip

Postnasal drip is one of the leading causes of dry cough. A person suffering from this malady will complain of secretions in the back of the throat, that tickling feeling and the need to clear the throat constantly with an induced cough.

Mucus accumulates every day, but when the amount is higher than normal from allergies or a cold, then the person feels the build up and the need to cough arises. This can lead to chronic dry cough if not treated. It is possible to have postnasal drip without experiencing any symptoms so a health care professional should be consulted for any persistent, dry cough.

Coughs Due to Allergens and Foreign Bodies

Coughing will occur if any foreign body lodges in the airway. The cough is a reflexive action to expel the object from the airway so that the person can resume breathing. Another cause of coughing is an allergic reaction. When the allergic sufferer gets in range of the allergen, he or she will tear up, sneeze, cough, wheeze, and in rarer incidents when the allergy is acute, have difficulty breathing. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, coughing is a common reaction to allergens, such as pollen, dust, pet dander and mold. Coughing, in this case, is a protective response to these irritants, helping the body expel mucous and infection from the airways.

Cough Caused by Smoking

Most people who smoke also develop a cough, commonly referred to by smokers as smokers cough. According to Therapeutic Guidelines Limited, more than 50 percent of smokers who stop smoking will lose the smokers cough within four weeks.

Smoking can lead to cough because it increases the amount and thickness of the mucus in the lungs. The body tries to eject this excess mucus, and the result is a coughing fit. Parental smoking is also a significant cause of coughing in children.

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