I have many patients who come to me with chronic cough, some of them having suffered this condition for many years! The medical definition of a chronic cough is a cough that lasts eight weeks or longer for adults. For children, any cough that lasts longer than four weeks is considered a chronic cough.
Chronic cough can greatly interfere in one’s daily life and reduce one’s quality of life. It can make socializing and presenting yourself in one’s professional life difficult, as conversations and meetings will be constantly punctuated with instances of coughing. However, it goes beyond that. Chronic coughers naturally have a tough time falling asleep and even when they do manage to fall asleep, their cough can interrupt it and drastically lower the amount of restful sleep achieved in a night.
Chronic coughers come in many shapes and sizes; some only have a dry, chesty cough with no other symptoms, while some also present with a runny nose, sore throat, nasal drip at the back of the throat and blocked airways. Certain gastrointestinal conditions have also been linked to chronic coughs, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is important to undergo a full ENT checkup in order to accurately determine the reason for the development of chronic cough.
For adults that suffer from a runny nose, this creates a constant stream of secretions that go down the back of the throat, causing the natural reflex of coughing to trigger. This is the body’s natural response so that the lungs and lower air passages can be cleared out for proper breathing. In actuality, it is not the best thing to do to continue to clear your throat in the case of chronic cough. Using a nasal spray or taking some decongestants can greatly help in reducing nasal backdrop and addressing the constant need of having to cough.
Why is my chronic cough not improving?
As an ENT specialist, chronic cough is actually quite a hard condition to treat. In general, after a course of antibiotics, some patients do recover somewhat and the cough reduces in severity. However, there are many cases that continue to drag on and on, not responding to antibiotic treatment.
Some patients suffer from chronic cough due to suffering from underlying health problems which exacerbate the condition. Having allergies as well as having asthma are both reasons that a patient might suffer from a cough. We have also found evidence to link acid reflux to chronic cough patients.
When undergoing treatment, drinking enough water and fluids is of utmost importance. This keeps the body hydrated and the fluids allow the mucus that has been trapped in your airway to get washed out more naturally. What you will want to avoid when coughing are substances that dehydrate you – Alcohol and drinks with a high caffeine content should be avoided since you do not want to dry out your airways.
Environmental factors also play a point. Singapore is rather humid, but in other countries with a much drier climate, it is common that during times like autumn and winter (where the air has the least moisture) that a common cough is developed. This can be modulated with a humidifier – aim for a humidity level of around 40-50% for optimal throat health.