A cough isn’t a disease in itself. It is a bodily protective mechanism; a symptom of an underlying condition. We cough because there is something blocking our air passageways like foreign particles, food particles, and body secretions (like mucus), which may promote infection if left inside our system; they may signal an ongoing infection or inflammation. We also cough because the cough receptors in our throat and lungs are being stimulated by irritants such as allergens even if there is nothing blocking the air passageways.
A simple cough is usually self-limiting (acute). Depending on the circumstances and risk factors, however, it can recur, worsen, or persist (become chronic) and may be associated with a sinus infection, allergic rhinitis, acid reflux, pneumonia, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It can also be associated with more serious medical conditions such as heart failure and pneumonia.
Chronic or persistently recurring cough can result from one or more conditions mentioned above. Some examples of the more common conditions are explained below:
- Postnasal drip. When you have colds that cause secretions from the nose to flow or drip into the back of your throat, your throat gets irritated and this can trigger a cough. Postnasal drip can also develop if you have allergies, sinusitis, or rhinitis.
- Asthma. Asthma is the leading cause of chronic cough in children. It is also the second most reported cause in adults. Asthma is a lung disease that makes the airways prone to swelling and inflammation. Some people who have asthma report only chronic coughing as a symptom—their condition is known as cough variant asthma. Asthma attacks come and go and may be triggered by exposure to cold, dry air, smoke, fumes, irritants, pollutants, pollen, fragrances, pet dander, and certain foods.
- Pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB). Common in the Philippines, PTB is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Symptoms include cough, (bloody) phlegm, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats, chills, and loss of appetite. It’s a contagious disease that easily spreads via tiny droplets when one sneezes or coughs (or laughs, spits, and other ways of spreading saliva).
- Acid reflux. Also known as gastroesophageal reflux or GERD, acid reflux happens when stomach acids flow back into the esophagus. This gives you a sour taste in the mouth, chronic cough, and sometimes chest pains called “heartburn.” Acid reflux can be so severe sometimes that your stomach substances can be aspirated into your lungs and cause damage to lung tissue.