Thursday, December 08, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Coughing is normal. It's how the body expels mucus and other irritants in the throat and airway. But a cough that lasts longer than six to eight weeks may be the sign of an underlying problem or disease.
The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers chronic coughs and the sometimes time-consuming process of determining the cause. Finding the cause and determining treatment are important. A long-lasting cough can cause physical problems such as damage to the vocal cords, rupture of small blood vessels in the airway, fainting spells, hernias, or even broken ribs. A chronic cough also can interfere with quality of life, interrupting sleep and making social activities difficult.
To determine the cause of a long-term cough, doctors systematically consider and eliminate the most likely culprits. In about 90 percent of cases, the underlying cause is postnasal drip, asthma or gastroesophageal reflux disease, where stomach acid backs up (refluxes) into the esophagus. Less likely causes are whooping cough (pertussis); lung disorders including chronic bronchitis or lung cancer; and the use of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, medications prescribed to lower blood pressure.
Usually, chronic cough can be stopped by treating the underlying cause. Sometimes, multiple causes need to be addressed. Treatment may include:
Doctors also advise patients not to smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. In addition to causing chronic bronchitis, smoking irritates the lungs and can worsen coughs caused by other conditions.
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