Dr. M.J. Bazos MD,
Cough: Causes and Cures
When should I call my doctor?
If you have had a cough for more
than 3 weeks, it may be chronic. When something is "chronic" it means it lasts
for a long time. Here are some questions to help you decide if you should see
your doctor about your cough:
- Are you coughing up thick yellow or green phlegm?
- Are you wheezing (making a whistling sound when
you breathe in)?
- Are you running a temperature higher than
- Are you losing weight without trying?
- Are you having drenching sweats in bed at night
(the sheets and your pajamas get soaking wet)?
- Are you coughing up blood?
If you answered "yes" to
any of these questions, call your doctor. He or she will want to find out if you
have an illness that is causing the cough. If you answered "no" to all of these
questions, one of the causes listed below may be causing your cough.
Smoking can cause a cough that
doesn't go away. If you smoke, you need to stop. Talk to your doctor about using
nicotine patches, gum, inhaler or nasal spray, or another method to stop
Postnasal drip caused by allergies
can cause a cough. Postnasal drip is mucus that runs down your throat from the
back of your nose. If you have this, try to avoid the things you are allergic
to, such as the following:
- At home: smoke, dust, molds, pets, certain
plants, cleaning agents and room deodorizers
- Outdoors: pollen and freshly cut grass
- At work: smoke, dust and chemical fumes
antihistamine-decongestant combination may help stop your allergies and your
cough. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to help you choose one.
Some medicines can cause chronic
cough in some people. Some examples of medicines that may cause cough are the
- ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure
- Beta blockers for high blood pressure, migraines
doctor's office to find out if any of the medicines you use could cause you to
cough. If you are taking a medicine that can cause you to cough, your doctor
might be able to prescribe another medicine for you. Don't stop taking a
prescribed medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Coughing can be a sign of asthma.
In some people with mild asthma, a cough is the only symptom. Your doctor may
ask you to try using some asthma medicine to see if your cough goes away. If it
does, you probably have mild asthma. Regular treatment for asthma will help the
cough go away.
Acid from your stomach may back up
into your throat. This is called "acid reflux." It can cause heartburn or cough.
Acid reflux is more common when you're lying down. If you have this problem,
try raising the head of your bed about 4 inches. It might help to avoid eating
or drinking for two hours before you lie down. You shouldn't drink alcoholic
beverages or drinks with caffeine in them, or eat chocolate or spicy or
greasy foods before you lie down. An antacid (such as Tums) or an acid-blocking
medicine (such as Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet or Zantax) may also be helpful. Talk to
your doctor or pharmacist.