What Is Cough?
Cough is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying medical condition. A cough can be voluntary or involuntary, and it is the body’s way to help clear the airways of irritants and to prevent infection.
What Are Symptoms of Cough?
A cough may be accompanied by other cold symptoms, including:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Postnasal drip
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
What Causes Cough?
Causes of cough include:
- Common colds (viral infections)
- Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
- Bacterial or fungal infections
- The most common cause of chronic cough
- Postnasal drip
- Allergies (allergic rhinitis)
- Sinus infection
- Lung conditions
- Congestive heart failure
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Certain medications such as ACE inhibitors
- Inhalation of foreign objects into the lungs (usually in children)
Is a Cough Contagious?
Cough itself is not contagious as it is a symptom of another condition, however, some causes of cough can be contagious.
Infectious causes of cough such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi can be transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets propelled into the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
How Is Cough Diagnosed?
Cough is diagnosed with a history and physical exam. Tests may be used to help diagnose the cause of the cough.
- Lung imaging
- Chest X-ray
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the chest
- Lung function tests
- Swab of inside the nose to test for COVID-19
- Lab tests of phlegm that is coughed up
- Acid reflux testing
- Upper endoscopy
- pH probe
- Allergy tests
What Is the Treatment for Cough?
Treatment for cough depends on the cause. Treatment may include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines that contain guaifenesin and/or dextromethorphan (available as cough syrups and in tablet form)
- Antibiotics for infection caused by bacteria such as bacterial pneumonia and bronchitis
- Antibiotics do not treat cough caused by viruses such as the common cold, flu, or COVID-19
- Inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled steroids to treat asthma and COPD
- Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or nasal inhalers like ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) for postnasal drip
- Stomach acid reducers such as famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac) omeprazole (Prilosec, Prilosec OTC), lansoprazole (Prevacid, Prevacid 24-Hour), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix), esomeprazole (Nexium) to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- If cough is caused from taking an ACE inhibitor, your doctor may switch your medication
- Never stop taking a prescribed medicine without first consulting your doctor
- Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to treat pain caused by coughing
Home remedies to help relieve a cough include:
- Stay hydrated
- Gargle with warm saltwater
- Inhale steam in a shower or using a humidifier
- Suck on cough lozenges (lozenges are not recommended for young children; they can be a choking hazard)
- Avoid allergens such as pollen, dust, animals, or mold
- Avoid inhaled irritants such as smoke, dust, and other pollutants
- Don’t smoke
- For GERD: Avoid foods that increase reflux, avoid meals before lying down, elevate the head while sleeping
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