Hi Winter, It’s the time of year we all start getting coughs. Most clear up within a few days, but if yours doesn’t, it could be the sign of something more serious. While most coughs clear up within days, around 20 percent become chronic and some can persist for years.
It’s important that any cough that has lasted for more than eight weeks is checked out by your GP. Here, with the help of experts, Angela Epstein looks at chronic coughs, their causes, and what treatment is available.
Khushk Khansi Ka ilaj by Dr Sharafat Ali
SYMPTOM: A chronic, dry cough that goes on intermittently for years. Usually happens during the day and produces a coughing ‘fit’ that lasts for around ten minutes. This then spontaneously settles down but can recur an hour or so later. Sufferers can cough up to 400 times in 24 hours and suffer side effects such as fractured ribs and even incontinence.
CAUSE: Up to 15 percent of chronic coughs have no obvious cause, according to University Hospital’s Professor Woodcock.
He says: ‘These coughs are not caused by a disease itself, but by hypersensitivity of the person’s cough reflex. This means they are overly sensitive to anything that contacts their throat and this triggers a coughing fit. ‘Many sufferers have rib fractures as a result of the intense pressure put on their ribcage caused by coughing, which is very painful.
‘And because the action of coughing can cause muscles in the pelvis to contract, it can result in incontinence, which is deeply distressing.’
TREATMENT: It’s important that all potential causes, such as post-nasal drip and acid reflux are investigated. This can be done through a range of tests such as a bronchoscopy, where a camera at the end of a flexible tube is inserted into the throat, and a function test on the esophagus to test acid levels.
‘If there is no specific trigger, soothing the cough is the only option, perhaps by sucking a strong menthol lozenge,’ says Professor Woodcock.
SYMPTOMS: Constant phlegmy cough, often worse in the early morning. Wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Shortness of breath when sitting down. Symptoms are ongoing but worse in winter.
CAUSE: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – the collective name for lung conditions chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The cough occurs as a result of inflammation in the lungs; this destroys the elasticity that allows them to expand and contract and also affects the rate of oxygen absorption into the bloodstream.