Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Different Types of Coughs

Whether you've got one yourself or are sharing an elevator with someone who has one, a cough is an unwelcome disturbance. But did you know that not all coughs are alike, and not all people who cough are contagious? Let's consider the different types of coughs, ways to remedy them, and how to identify whether a simple cough may be something more sinister.

Whooping Cough

Common mostly in children and toddlers, whooping cough is a highly contagious condition caused by a bacterial infection. It is characterized by a long coughing fit, during which the sufferer cannot draw in an adequate breath. The coughing may be so hard that it causes the person to shake or spasm. In some instances the blood vessels of the eyes may break due to the intense effort of the cough, or the coughing spasm turns into dry heaving or vomiting.

Chronic Cough

People with certain health conditions or diseases such as cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchiectasis, or bronchitis tend to cough involuntarily. This is the body's response to inflamed or otherwise blocked airways, and its attempt to exchange oxygen. A chronic cough may sound dry or raspy as in the case of COPD, or can be wet-sounding and fully of phlegm as sometimes happens for people with cystic fibrosis.

Asthma and Allergies

Asthmatics tend to have a dry, non-productive cough accompanied by a tight wheeze or crackling sound. Asthmatics and allergy suffers alike experience coughing spells when their airways become constricted in response to a trigger such as airborne pollutants, pollen, animal dander, cigarette smoke or products containing fragrance. This is most often remedied with a short acting bronchodilator in the form of an inhaler, or can be treated with longer acting corticosteroids.


Determining the appropriate cough remedy depends on the underlying reason for the cough. Cough associated with the common cold is usually caused by post-nasal drip. Throat lozenges and sprays containing menthol are effective in soothing the throat. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) help dry up the mucus in the sinuses and eliminate post-nasal drip.

Homeopathic remedies such as taking a hot shower with a lot of steam can help thin and loosen mucus in the chest. Inhaling a vapor mist from a humidifier also works well for some people, especially those suffering from a common cold. Sipping hot tea in flavors like vanilla, peppermint, or chamomile is a relaxing and calming way to sooth your throat when you have a cough.

Hydrocodone cough syrup is a strong cough suppressant. Not only does it calm your body's urge to cough, it can relieve the pain of an aching ribcage or strained abdominal muscles that occur with hard coughing. Hydrocodone cough suppressant requires a prescription from a doctor, and should be taken exactly as prescribed. Because it depresses your body’s respiration rate, patients with cystic fibrosis should use products containing hydrocodone with caution.

Other OTC cough syrups or even pills include an expectorant. Expectorants are useful to thin mucus secretions, making them easier to cough out. This is important especially in cases where the cough is a symptom of a respiratory infection. An expectorant combined with a mucolytic is a good option for people with cystic fibrosis not only because it helps break up the mucus, but it makes coughing it out that much easier. Look for products that contain the ingredient guaifenesin. Like hyptertonic saline, it will draw water into the lung tissue, making thick mucus less likely to “stick around” so to speak.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Not all coughs require medical attention. However, there are some serious conditions in which a health care professional should be contacted. These include:

-an atypical cough that lasts longer than 10 days

-a previously diagnosed cough changes in nature

-secretions have changed in color and appear more yellow or green

-blood is present in secretions or only blood is being coughed up (hemoptysis)

-cough is followed by a severe sharp pain on one side of the chest (could be a collapsed lung, i.e., pneumothorax)

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