Have you ever had this irritating experience?
You’re sitting in a crowded hospital waiting room and some guy right beside you starts to cough, and this goes on and on for a while. You could swear you heard something gross in that cough. He doesn’t have a hanky or tissue paper so he’s coughing into his bare hands. The scariest thing is, you don’t even know what he’s got!
This scenario doesn’t happen every day, fortunately. And indeed, everyone has a cough once in a while. It’s really nothing to worry about, usually. But what if that cough just doesn’t go away?
What is a Cough?
Cough is a fairly common symptom and is often the chief complaint at many clinic visits worldwide. We may attempt a definition and state that “A cough is a forceful, rapid release of air from the lungs that can be heard.”
Normally, it is a reflex designed to protect the human body: it protects our airways (the throat all the way down to the lungs) from intruders like germs, dust, chemicals and other particles swimming about in the air all around us. Coughing helps to clear the throat and rid it of these intruders. So it’s absolutely normal to cough when you find yourself in a smoky place.
In other words, cough is your friend and bodyguard, and can even serve as an early-warning system to alert you to other things going on in your body! More on this later...
The Physiology of Cough
The skin lining the insides of the nose and mouth all the way to the throat and lungs is called Epithelium. This airway epithelium is equipped with many detectors called sensory receptors which can detect the presence of even the smallest particles or harmful chemicals inhaled; and immediately send intruder-alert messages to the brain through the vagus nerve.
The brain responds quickly by sending a feedback to the abdominal muscles, diaphragm, and parts of the airway. These muscles go into repeated spasms, contracting repeatedly until the “intruder” is pushed out of the airways the way it came in.
Causes of Cough
“I don’t know!” Sometimes, the cause, one may not know. This kind of cough is brief, and may just come and go…
Allergies to dust, fumes and other chemicals may manifest as a cough and sometimes also breathlessness. Many people have nasty and often catastrophic allergies to certain food substances too, such as nuts and eggs.
Some people develop a cough upon the use of certain drugs like Lisinopril, Captopril, fluticasone nasal sprays, and rarely, chloroquine.
Cough is a leading symptom and sign of some more serious conditions: asthma; pneumonia; fungal chest infections; tuberculosis and even more serious illnesses like pulmonary embolism; heartfailure and lung cancer. Cough is a tell-tale sign in Gastric reflux (see our previous article “Is Your Heart Really On Fire?”)
If you love to eat out, then watch out!
Worms can enter the body through the contaminated and unwashed fruits and vegetables in your favourite salad. One notorious parasite is Ascaris lumbricoides, the round worm. Upon entry, the worm larvae can invade the lungs, causing cough, fever and episodes of breathlessness.
What to Do About The Cough That Won’t Go Away
Get rid of the dust! You don’t really need carpets and rugs in the building, but if you insist, please vacuum them every day because they are among the top 3 dust harbours in your house! Leather furniture is preferable to cloth fabric, or else, vacuum them too!
Know your allergies and avoid them-delicious or not. And if they make you cough or sneeze, your adorable cats or puppies have got to go!
A wise friend of mine gets a distressing cough when eating a coconut-so she avoids them!
Limit eating out-you don’t know where those meats and delicious salads have been!
That cough may just be an innocent messenger, warning you of a more sinister problem beneath! Do discuss it early with your doctor.
Have yourselves a fantastic week, friends!