Is Your Nagging Cough Not Improving

It’s one thing to have a cough for a couple of days.  But when it is persistent lingering weeks and weeks on end, worry may set in causing you to think the worst.  Is it bronchitis, is it whooping cough, maybe it’s cancer?  Our thoughts often jump to these scenarios as folk wisdom tends to associate a cough with a grave illness as one “bad” joke portends- what did one casket say to the other? “I hear you coffin.”

As unpleasant as they can be, a cough is considered a major player in protecting the body against disease.  When we cough it helps us expel out mucus, microbes, and foreign particles from the respiratory tract, protecting the lungs from infection and inflammation.

But when a stubborn cough is hanging on way past its welcome, then you begin to wonder why is it not improving.  Here are some reasons why a nagging cough doesn’t seem to want let go:

·         Airways from a cold or flu are still irritated

Chronic coughs are most predictable after you’ve had a cold or other viral infection.  Symptoms of a cold will run its course within about 10-14 days but a cough can hang around for weeks afterwards.  This is because viruses cause airways to become swollen and overly sensitive even after the virus has been long gone.  You, however, are stuck with a nagging cough that is trying to clear out those irritated airways.

·         Stress

Stress can always be a downer and particularly so if you develop a cold and cough.   Stress can make the illness worse if you are trying to still go to work or are pushing yourself harder than you should.  The answer here is to take some time off to rest and relax.  Even just a day or two of resting, drinking lots of fluids and taking it easy can make a huge difference in a faster recovery.  Also aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to allow your body to repair and rejuvenate itself.

·         Inadequate fluid intake

At the first sign of getting sick with a cold and cough, up your fluid intake.  Fluids help to loosen mucus in your airways so you can cough it up and out.  Choose plenty of water, juice and soup to accomplish this.  Put down that cup of coffee and avoid alcohol as beverages with caffeine can dehydrate you, just the opposite of what you need when you’re sick. 

·         Using OTC nasal decongestant spray

Over-the-counter (OTC) nasal decongestant sprays may help your stuffy nose but if used more than 3 days, the sprays can cause nasal membranes to swell, triggering more congestion, postnasal drip and a persistent cough.

·         Breathing in air that is too dry or too moist

Both too dry and too moist of air can be triggers for keeping your cough around longer than you like.  Dry air, common in the winter, can irritate a cough.  But if air is too moist, it can trigger asthma and encourage growth of dust mites and mold, which can you get coughing.  Humidifiers in a home are often necessary but keep the humidity level between 40-50% year round.

·         Bacterial infection

After a cold has run its course, it may have left something behind – bacteria.  During a cold, your airways can become raw and irritated making it easier for bacteria to invade.  The bacteria can then set up house causing sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia.  See your doctor if a cough won’t quit making sure you don’t have a bacterial infection requiring an antibiotic.

·         Blood pressure medications

One side effect of an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure is developing a chronic, dry cough.  About 1 in 5 people who take this medication will have this side effect.  If this happens to you, do not stop taking the drug but report it to your doctor to see if there is another medication you can take to prevent a cough while still treating your high blood pressure.

·         Underlying health problems

Besides a cold, other common causes of a cough include asthma and allergies.  There are also other health problems that can cause a lingering cough – acid reflux and obstructive sleep apnea.  Both of these conditions can lead to you having an issue with frequent coughing due to irritation or drying out of your air passages. 

Signs of acid reflux include burping, heartburn, and regurgitation.  Signs of obstructive sleep apnea include insomnia, loud snoring, nighttime choking or gasping, repeated awakenings, and sleepiness during the day.  See your doctor if you have of those symptoms including an annoying cough. 

Natural ways to get rid of a cough

1.      Drink plenty of fluids – water, juices, soups.

2.      Take hot showers to loosen secretions in your nose to prevent or ease a cough.

3.      Licorice tea has been shown to quiet a cough.

4.      Two teaspoons of honey at bedtime has been found to suppress a cough.  Honey can also be added to tea to get a similar effect. 

5.      Check the humidity level in your home.  Use a humidifier to put moisture back in the air particularly at night.

6.      Remove irritants from your household environment – room deodorizers and cigarette smoke can be common causes of keeping your cough going.