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Coughs (cont.)

How to Treat a Cough

The treatment of a cough will depend largely on its severity and underlying cause.

The treatment of an acute cough is directed primarily at decreasing the cough in addition to treating the underlying cause.

  • Symptomatic relief of cough can be provided by over-the-counter or prescription cough remedies.
  • Severe coughs or coughs that interfere with sleep may need remedies that include narcotic medications. If these are prescribed, avoid alcohol, driving, and operating any heavy machinery while using the medication.
  • If a bacterial infection is suspected the doctor will often prescribe antibiotics. People suspected of having a viral infection will not benefit from antibiotics, and will receive treatments directed at their symptoms only.
  • Elderly people, people with severe bacterial or viral infections, and people with weakened immune systems may require admission to the hospital to manage the underlying problem.

The treatment of a chronic cough will also be directed at treating the underlying condition. It is important to recognize that treatment may be difficult, may employ multiple approaches, and may not completely eliminate the cough.

  • If the patient has a cough caused by smoking, allergies, or environmental irritants, he or she will benefit from elimination of the offending substance. It may take several weeks for the doctor to assess the response to this approach because of the length of time required to repair damage to the lungs and air passages from the offending agent.
  • If the patient has a lung disease, he or she will often need ongoing therapy to treat the condition. Therapies used will depend largely on the type of disease. Multiple treatments are often used at the same time to help reduce symptoms. Careful adherence with the treatment will be critical to help slow the progression of any disease and to reduce symptoms. In cases where home therapy fails and symptoms worsen, the patient may need hospitalization so that additional or more intensive therapies may be attempted.
  • If the patient's cough is suspected to be caused by a medication, he or she will show improvement when the medication is stopped. When this occurs, the cough may take up to a few weeks to resolve. Another medication may be needed to replace the one the patient stopped taking.
  • If the patient is suspected of having a cough caused by GERD, he or she will need treatment to reduce the amount of acid reflux from the stomach. This is typically done with diet changes and medication. Successful treatment may take time, and multiple therapies may be needed.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016
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