Health Team

What's causing my cough? List of potential culprits is long

Posted February 14
Updated February 15

The State Health Department reported one new flu death this past week, which brings the total number of flu deaths in North Carolina to 22 for this flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control says flu activity continues to increase and is widespread across most of the United States.​ As the season continues, patients are flooding into doctors offices with respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.

In addition to the flu, pneumonia, mono and strep throat can cause similar problems, but there are effective treatments your doctor can offer.

A complaint that doctors see this time of year is coughing. There are a variety of causes of a cough, though not all are due to an infection.

One common cause of coughing is acid reflux where stomach acid can trickle up the esophagus, especially when reclined at nighttime. The acid can cause irritation that leads to coughing.

Antacids or over-the-counter acid receptor blockers can help mitigate the condition. See an ear, nose and throat specialist to see if acid reflux is at the root of your coughing.

Some medications can cause coughing, too. About 20 percent of people who take ace inhibitors, which treat high blood pressure, develop a cough. Switching to a different drug could be the cure for some people.

Cardiovascular problems, such as heart failure, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or a heart attack, can weaken the muscles of the heart, which can lead to fluid collecting in the lungs, causing a frothy cough.

Asthma is another common cause of wheezing and coughing. If you have asthma, an infection, cold or dry air, exercise, dust particles or pollen can lead to coughing. In this case, a cough medication is not the answer, but rather a rescue inhaler is needed to relax the muscles of the airway and restore normal breathing.

Infection is the most common cause of coughing, though. The common cold, flu virus and pneumococcus bacteria can be the culprit.

Doctors have to think of the other causes of a cough to avoid prescribing things like antibiotics if a bacterial infection is not the cause.

Other causes of a cough are:

–Post-nasal drip, where fluid and mucous drip from nasal passages to irritate our throat and vocal cords. The treatment here is a decongestant or antihistamine.

–Acute bronchitis, which is caused by inflammation and sometimes infection of the bronchial tubes.
Your doctor can prescribe medications, including antibiotics when indicated to treat this.

–Pneumonia. A bacteria, virus or fungus can invade the air sacs of the lungs resulting in a build-up of pus or fluid. It is particularly dangerous in the elderly and those with underlying medical problems, such as cigarette smokers, those with damage to their immune system, diabetics, asthmatics or those with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease.

Pneumonia is a life-threatening condition, especially if it gets into the blood stream.

Doctors recommend drinking plenty of fluids to stay healthy and taking over-the-counter medications that are specific to your symptoms. But avoid multi-combination medications that contain acetaminophen or other ingredients you don't need.

You do not want to take more than 3000mg of acetaminophen, like Tylenol, per day.


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