North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL


November 16, 2011

Health Watch: Coughing is only symptom, not disease

We are having a lot of customers come in this and last week with a common complaint. Nothing out of the norm for this time of year, but nevertheless it can be irritating.

What I’m describing is a sudden, often repetitive, spasmodic contraction of the thoracic cavity, resulting in a violent release of air from the lungs, accompanied by a distinctive and characteristic sound.

Sounds pretty bad doesn’t it? Well, really, this is the description of a cough.

Coughing is an action the body initiates to remove irritating substances from the air passages. A cough is really a protective and primitive reflex of the body. Coughing is the body’s way of removing foreign materials or mucus from the lungs or upper airway passages. Coughing can be triggered by a bolus of food entering the trachea rather than the esophagus when eating or drinking. Frequent or chronic coughing is often an indication of the presence of some acute or chronic disease. A cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of a cough can be determined only when other symptoms are evaluated.

Coughs are generally classified as being productive or non-productive. A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus (sputum). A non-productive cough is dry and does not product sputum.

Productive cough

A dry, hacking cough may develop toward the end of a cold or after exposure to an irritant, such as smoke or dust. Each type of cough may have many other potential causes such as protective coughs:

• Viral illnesses – It’s normal to have a productive cough when you have a cold. The coughing is often triggered by mucus that drains down the back of the throat

• Infection – An infection of the lungs and upper respiratory passages can cause a cough. This can be a symptom of pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis or tuberculosis.

• Chronic lung disease – A productive cough can be a sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

• Stomach Acid – Stomach acid can back up into the esophagus. This type of cough can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and may awaken you during sleep.

Smoking or other tobacco use can cause a productive cough. This type of cough may be the sign of lung damage or irritation of the throat or esophagus.

Nasal discharge draining down the throat (postnasal drip) can cause a productive cough, and the feeling that you need to constantly clear your throat.

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