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Why Can’t I Stop Coughing?

Hear that sound? Of course you do, you’ve been hearing it for what seems like forever. It’s the sound of you coughing… again.

What is a chronic cough? Pulmonologists (respiratory doctors) consider a cough to be chronic when it lasts eight weeks or longer in adults and four weeks or longer in children. A chronic, non-resolving cough can disrupt your sleep and your life. It can be painful, cause nausea and vomiting, and let’s face it: it’s just downright obnoxious. Let’s look at some of the common reasons that nagging cough of yours just won’t go away.

Post Nasal Drip

Did you know that each day, your nose produces a quart of mucus? It’s true (and also kind of gross). If that seems like a lot of mucus, it’s snot, really (see what we did there?). You typically don’t even notice it because this mucus mixes with your saliva and drips down your throat, allowing you to swallow it without being any the wiser.

However, when your body ramps up its mucus production or the regular production starts getting thicker/stickier, that’s when it starts to cause problems. Sometimes, this excess mucus production can come out of your nose, but when it runs down the back of your throat, it’s called post nasal drip.

What causes this overproduction of mucus? There are several things that can trigger post nasal drip, including:

  • Common cold
  • Flu
  • Pregnancy (as if you don’t have enough to worry about, here is an abundance of mucus!)
  • Sinus infection/sinusitis
  • Allergies
  • Deviated septum
  • Changes in weather
  • Certain food
  • Fumes from perfume, smoke, cleaning products, etc.

Some telltale signs that you’re suffering from post nasal drip include:

  • An ongoing, chronic cough
  • Sore/scratchy throat
  • Bad breath
  • Nausea
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Sensation of mucus in the back of your throat

How to Treat Post Nasal Drip

Since postnasal drip has many underlying causes, the key to finding relief is to discover the cause and treating it. If you suspect your chronic cough might be from post nasal drip, give us a call at 423-710-3864 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mike, or visit our website to request an appointment online!

Cough-Variant Asthma

Asthma, a chronic lung disease that inflames the airways, can cause an ongoing cough. Asthma-related coughs may wax and wane with the seasons or appear after an upper respiratory tract infection (URI). An asthma cough might also become worse when you’re exposed to cold air. In cough-variant asthma, the main symptom is a dry, non-productive cough. (If your cough is non-productive, it means you’re not expelling mucus.)

Cough-variant asthma often has none of the other “telltale” signs of asthma (wheezing, shortness of breath). Asthma-related coughing can occur during the day or at night, and sometimes will increase or get worse when you exercise. If you have cough-variant asthma, you might also notice that your cough increases when you’re exposed to asthma triggers or allergens (smoke, dust, perfume, etc.).

How to Treat Cough-Variant Asthma

Cough-variant asthma is treated the same way typical asthma is treated: with inhalers! Your physician will prescribe “rescue” inhalers like albuterol or ipratropium; they may also put you on an inhaled steroid to act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Unlike fast-acting inhalers like albuterol, these inhaled steroids are taken daily to reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Smoking/Smoker’s Cough

You know what we’re going to say here, don’t you? Smoking is not good for you, and could be the underlying cause of your unresolved cough. “Smoker’s cough” is a real thing, and is often characterized as a persistent cough that develops over time. Smoker’s cough typically starts out as dry and unproductive, but it’ll eventually become the type of cough that produces phlegm. This phlegm can be clear, white, yellow, green, or even (yuck) brown. Typically, chronic cough related to smoking is worse in the morning.

How to Treat Smoking-Related Cough/Smoker’s Cough

Stop smoking. The end!

All joking aside, smoker’s cough can take a while to clear up, so if you’ve stopped smoking and are still suffering from a smoking-related, chronic cough, try these at-home remedies to find relief:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (6–8 glasses of water per day)
  • Exercise regularly—this helps strengthen your lungs and expel the phlegm that might still be in them due to long-term smoking
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee
  • Use cough drops
  • Gargle with salt water

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (better known as GERD) is a disorder of the digestive tract. It affects the ring of muscle between your esophagus and stomach, and one of its telltale signs is heartburn—that dreaded, burning sensation in your stomach. GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter is weak and allows your stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus.

Many people are surprised to learn that GERD can be the reason for their ongoing cough, but the University of North Carolina School of Medicine estimates that chronic cough is caused by GERD over 25% of the time. When acid gets past the esophageal sphincter, it can enter the throat—and even the voice box—and cause hoarseness, sore throat, and that pesky cough that you can’t seem to shake.

Signs of a GERD-related cough include:

  • Coughing when you lie down
  • A cough without asthma, postnasal drip, or when a chest x-ray doesn’t show any abnormalities
  • Coughing at night or after eating
  • Coughing when all/most other respiratory ailments have been ruled out

Treating GERD-Related Coughing

Many physicians will, first and foremost, suggest lifestyle changes to reduce your GERD-related chronic cough or get rid of it completely. Lifestyle changes include:

  • Losing weight
  • Avoiding foods that trigger reflux
  • Remaining upright for a few hours after meals
  • Eating smaller meals more frequently
  • Quitting smoking

If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to bring relief, your physician may suggest:

  • Antacids (Tums, Rolaids, etc.)
  • Gaviscon (a foaming agent that helps reduce stomach acid)
  • H2 blockers (Pepcid, Zantac, etc.)

Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes. It can be acute (short-lived) or ongoing (recurring/constant). Acute bronchitis (which is, actually, not cute at all) is typically the result of a cold or infection. It usually clears up within a few days.

Chronic bronchitis is a little different. It’s a constant, ongoing bronchial tube inflammation and it’s harder to get rid of than acute bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is most often caused by cigarette smoke, but it can also occur if you’re exposed to air pollution, dust, or toxic fumes over long periods of time.

A bronchitis-related cough is typically persistent and produces mucus (this mucus can be white, green, clear, or yellowish-gray). In addition to a non-resolving cough, chronic bronchitis usually comes with a host of other unpleasant symptoms: fever, chills, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort just to name a few.

If you have a persistent cough that you just can’t seem to rid yourself of, and have been tested for other cough-producing problems, you might have chronic bronchitis.

Treating Chronic Bronchitis

If you’re a smoker, the best way to end your coughing for good is to quit. If chronic bronchitis is suspected, your physician will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan. Treatments might include:

  • Inhaled steroids
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery
  • Inhalers
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation

A chronic cough can be more than obnoxious – it can disrupt your entire life. But no matter the cause of your ongoing cough, we’re here to help! The Lung Docs provides specialized, state-of-the-art pulmonary care to our patients suffering from a chronic cough in the Chattanooga and surrounding Southeast Tennessee/Northwest Georgia areas.

Dr. Mike Czarnecki, “The Lung Doc,” will work with you to formulate a personalized treatment plan to diagnose and treat the cause of your chronic cough so you can live, laugh, love, and breathe better again.

Give us a call at 423-710-3864 or request an appointment online today!

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