COUGH: AN INTRODUCTION

A cough is a very common condition. Most of the time, the purpose of a cough is very simple: we cough to expel an irritant from the lungs or the throat, whether it’s a piece of food, particle of dust, or an infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as a cold or flu. In these cases, a cough encourages the lungs to rid themselves of phlegm and irritating substances.

However, a cough can also be caused by emotions, as some

people cough when they get upset; it’s almost as if they’re trying to rid the body of the negative thoughts and feelings that are causing them to be upset.

These kinds of coughs are usually not serious and tend not to last for more than a week or so. Since most coughs are part of the body’s infection-fighting system, they usually disappear without any specific treatment. However, if your cough lasts for more than a week or appears on and off over a period of a couple of months, you should see your doctor.

More uncommonly, a cough can be a sign of a serious disease. Asthma and heart disease can first show up as a simple cough. Likewise, many cancers of the lung begin with a cough as the only symptom. Therefore, the words you use to describe your cough to your doctor are very important. If you’re not sure of the reason why you’re coughing, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How long have I been coughing? Hours, days, or weeks?

2. Is it a productive cough? In other words, am I coughing up mucus, phlegm, or blood? If so, how much? Less than a tablespoon or more than that? And what is the color? Bright red, brown, grey, green,| black, or clear?

3. Do I start to cough when I’m in a certain position such as lying down?

4. Do I start to cough when I increase my level of physical activity?

5. Am I wheezing?

6. Do I have other symptoms, such as weight loss, fever, or chills? Has my voice changed over a period of several months?

7. Do I start coughing when I’m eating?

8. Do I tend to cough when I become nervous?

Your answers to these questions will help your doctor diagnose your cough and prescribe appropriate treatment. If he thinks your cough is a sign of a serious underlying illness, he may order one or more of the tests listed earlier in this chapter that are used to investigate problems in the chest.

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