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December 2, 2013

Constant Cough Can Disrupt Your Daily Life

Constant coughing is common during cold and flu season. But allergies, asthma, acid reflux, dry air, and smoking are other causes.

Constant coughing is common during cold and flu season. But allergies, asthma, acid reflux, dry air, and smoking are other causes.

ThedaCare offers five tips to manage a cough at home:

  • Stay hydrated: An upper respiratory tract infection like a cold or flu causes postnasal drip. “That extra secretion will trickle down the back of your throat, irritating it and sometimes causing a cough,” said Jay Rust, PA-C, ThedaCare Physicians-New London. Drink fluids, especially water, to help thin out the mucus in postnasal drip. Fluids also help keep the mucous membranes moist, which is particularly helpful in the winter when the air is dry and can be the source of a cough.
  • Try lozenges and hot drinks: A cough drop with menthol will numb the back of the throat and decrease the cough reflex. Warm tea with honey can soothe the throat as well.

  • Take steamy showers and use a humidifier: A hot shower can help a cough by loosening secretions in the nose. “This can help ease coughs not only from colds, but also from allergies and asthma,” said Rust.  In a dry home, nasal secretions can become uncomfortable. Use a humidifier to put moisture back into the air. Be sure to the humidifier to prevent the spread of mold and bacteria back into the air.

  • Remove irritants in the air: Perfumes and scented bathroom sprays can cause chronic sinus irritation, which leads to chronic cough because of the production of excess mucus. “The worst irritant is smoke,” said Rust. “Everyone around a smoker may suffer from some airway irritation.” A smoker with a severe chronic cough should be checked by a doctor for emphysema or lung cancer.

  • Take medications to treat coughs: Over-the-counter medicines can ease a cough. Decongestants relieve nasal congestion by shrinking swollen nasal tissue and reducing mucus production. Look for phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine as the active ingredient in oral decongestants taken by mouth. “Before taking decongestants, check with your provider especially if you are on blood pressure medication,” said Rust. If coughing keeps you up at night, consider a cough suppressant such as dextromethorphan. A cough expectorant such as guaifenesin help to thin out the mucus so one can more easily cough it up.

“Coughs caused by the common cold usually go away in a few weeks,” said Rust. However, a chronic, persistent cough may be caused by underlying medical problem such as allergies, asthma, acid reflux or the medications you take. Talk to your health care provider if your cough lasts longer than two to four weeks, or if you are coughing up blood, or if you’re having other symptoms such as weight loss, chills, or fatigue. Seek urgent evaluation.