Cough: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Cough is a part of life for most people, but when it occurs more often than just occasionally, it can be a sign of health problems. Cough can interrupt sleep, eating, working and everyday life. For people who suffer from chronic coughing, it can even be an embarrassing condition and leave them physically exhausted and even sore. Most of the times cough can be treated and cleared up with medication or other treatment options. Anyone who is suffering from a chronic cough should see a doctor to rule out any serious diseases, illnesses, or health problems.

Cough Causes

The cause of a cough can vary. Sometimes a cough can just be a simple reaction to a tickle in the throat or another discomfort. In other cases, serious health problems can cause it. Some people are aware of the things that cause them to cough, and others have no idea. Some of the most common causes of a cough include:

  • Nasal drainage
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • GERD
  • Infections
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Aspiration
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Sarcoidosis

Cough Symptoms

In most cases, the cough is the symptom of an illness or health problem. In the case of a chronic cough, there may be other symptoms associated with a cough. Not everyone will experience these symptoms, and those who do may experience mild or severe versions of them. Some of the most common symptoms of a chronic cough include:

  • Runny nose
  • Postnasal draining
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heartburn
  • Sour taste in your mouth
  • Coughing up blood

Cough Diagnosis

Diagnosing the cause of a cough is important. It’s obvious when a person has a cough, but most of the time, the cause isn’t obvious. Because so many things can cause a cough, doctors must use a variety of tests and exams to determine the exact diagnosis. Some of the most common tests used include:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • Lung function tests
  • Lab tests
  • Upper GI endoscope
  • Brocnhoscope

Cough Treatment

Treatments can be focused on relieving the cough itself and also treating the cause. An accurate diagnosis is necessary for proper treatment, and when doctors can confirm one, they may need to use trial and error to find the right treatment option for their patients. Some of the most common treatment options include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Decongestants
  • Inhaled asthma drugs
  • Allergy medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Acid blockers
  • Cough suppressants

Cough Prognosis

The prognosis for most people who suffer coughs is good. In most cases, coughs are nothing to worry about and are simply a reaction to something uncomfortable. They typically only last for a few minutes and are over. People who have a cold or allergies can also suffer from a cough, but it clears up after a few days. The prognosis often depends on the cause. In cases where the cough is caused by something as serious as lung cancer or cystic fibrosis, the prognosis may not be as good. The sooner a person is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis, no matter what the cause.


American Lung Association