Coughing is a reflex action or the body's response to the presence of an irritant in the oro-nasal passage. It is a mechanism followed by the body for getting rid of foreign substances that may be irritating the airways. When any foreign particles are detected, the chest muscles and the diaphragm contract. Thereafter, the inhaled air enters the lungs, and the epiglottis (the cartilage flap that covers the windpipe) closes. The larynx closes for a brief period for trapping the inhaled air within the lungs. With the contraction of the abdominal muscles, the pressure in the lungs increase. As a result, vocal cords relax and the larynx opens. Thereafter, air is expelled from the lungs at a high speed. The air that is expelled clears the foreign particles from the airways. If one coughs occasionally, it is certainly nothing to worry about. However, medical assistance must be sought by individuals who have been coughing constantly, as it could be a symptom of respiratory tract infections such as common cold, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, etc.
The following medical conditions could give rise to cough:
- Infections such as common cold cause excessive production of phlegm. When phlegm irritates the throat, the body tries to get rid of it by coughing it out.
- Viral infections or allergies are always on the rise during winter. When a person is exposed to allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust, etc., the immune system responds by activating mast cells, which release histamines. This gives rise to symptoms such as runny nose, coughing, nasal congestion, sore throat, constant clearing of the throat, etc.
- Bouts of coughing could be associated with inhalation of smoke or other environmental pollutants.
- Individuals affected by asthma or bronchitis could also get affected. Medical conditions such as SARS could also cause incessant coughing
- At times, constant cough could be indicative of serious medical conditions such as emphysema or lung cancer. This is especially evident in cases of chronic smokers.
- In case of children, croup or whooping cough could lead to coughing.
One must inform their healthcare provider about the other symptoms that accompany cough, as these could help the doctor identify the underlying medical condition. Some of the common symptoms that are associated with respiratory infections or lung disease include:
- Chest pain
- Pain in the ribs
- Excess mucus or phlegm
- Foul-smelling or blood-tinged sputum
- Difficulty in breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
Since constant coughing could sometimes be a symptom of serious medical conditions, it would be best to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Respiratory infections can be easily treated by taking the drugs prescribed by the doctor. Also, the causal agents such as viruses could become airborne when the person affected by the infection coughs or sneezes. Therefore, precautions must be taken during the time when such infections are prevalent.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.