When your body is trying to get rid of an irritant, coughing is its natural reflex. Your brain responds by telling the muscles in your chest and abdomen to contract and expel air. This helps remove mucus to keep your lungs and airways clear and functioning correctly.
While coughing is often trivial and goes away in a few days, a persistent cough can be both bothersome and related to an illness. To understand cough symptoms and find out whether your condition is severe, here are the different types of cough that you should be aware of.
The 3 Types of Cough
1. Acute Cough
If you have acute cough, it will typically last up to three weeks. This is usually caused by a virus and may either be productive (i.e. produces mucus) or non-productive (dry). The following are common illnesses that trigger this type of cough:
- Pulmonary embolism
- Sinus infection
- Whooping cough
In most cases, when you have acute cough, your body must resist the infection on its own if the cause is a virus. However, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor about your specific condition and what cough treatments will work best for you.
2. Subacute Cough
This type of cough lasts between three and eight weeks. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to have a physician evaluate your subacute cough. About 60 percent of subacute coughs go away on their own, though.
Here are the common causes of a subacute cough:
- A post-infectious cough
- Cough-variant asthma
- Eosinophilic bronchitis
- Post-nasal drip
In general, if a physician thinks that the cause of your cough is post-infectious or a post-nasal drip, a prescription of antihistamines plus a decongestant may be given. The medication can run for about three weeks until your cough has cleared up.
3. Chronic Cough
A chronic cough will last longer than eight weeks. What’s more, the causes of a chronic cough can sometimes be hard to determine. To effectively isolate the cause of your chronic cough, your physician may deem it necessary to run several tests or recommend another specialist.
The habit of smoking can be the cause of a chronic cough. However, it may also include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Heart failure
- Lung cancer
- Post-nasal drip
If you have a habit of smoking, it’s crucial that you start a smoking cessation program right away. Smoking may not only be the cause of your chronic cough, but it also puts you at a greater risk of developing other health-related problems.
How to Determine If a Cough Is an Emergency
A cough reflex is your body’s natural and protective way of informing you about an impending emergency. If you suddenly have a coughing session and notice the potential for any of the following illnesses, seek medical attention at once.
- Allergic reaction
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation
- Accidental inhalation of a foreign object
Other than coughing, you may also experience difficulty with your breathing and worrisome symptoms like swelling of the tongue. If you’re at risk for any emergent conditions, never delay medical treatment as your condition may be life-threatening.
When should you see a doctor?
Most coughs won’t require you to visit a doctor for treatment. However, it still depends on the type of cough you’re dealing with as well as how long it lasts. You should also take your age and health into consideration.
An adult person with a cough should see a doctor without delay if the cough lasts for more than eight weeks and the patient:
- Coughs up blood
- Is dehydrated or unable to eat food
Is overly fatigued
- Has a fever of over 100.4°F (38°C)
- Has daily heartburn or stomach acid reflux
- Is out of breath, causing an inability to talk or walk
- Turns pale or is bluish
- Experiences wheezing in addition to coughing
Before taking any cough medication, it’s important that you understand your condition first. If you think your cough is a symptom of a severe illness, make sure to find time to visit the doctor to diagnose your condition accurately.
Once a physician has given you medication and instructions to deal with your cough, be certain to follow the doctor’s advice religiously.
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