20 January 2019
More people suffer from nasty coughs in autumn and winter, also known as the flu season. Photo: HKEJ
More people suffer from nasty coughs in autumn and winter, also known as the flu season. Photo: HKEJ

Coughs: Why they happen and what to do

Coughs are common, and we shouldn’t be too concerned if we cough once in a while.

However, if a cough becomes persistent, it will not only bring discomfort and annoy us as well as people around us, it may also imply poor health.

To treat a cough, it is more important to find out the reasons behind our coughing than just stopping the symptom.

Though it is quite annoying, a cough is a reflex action to clear the airways of mucus and irritants, and to ward off infection of our lungs due to foreign substances.

There are many causes for the symptom.

Some people with a sensitive airway would find themselves coughing when the weather changes or after doing sports or other strenuous activities.

The cool dry air would stimulate the contraction of the respiratory tract, resulting in coughs.

Mouth breathers would be more vulnerable as the incoming air, without being warmed and moisturized via the nostrils, strikes their sensitive tracts right away.

In fact, coughs are common during autumn and winter, the period that is often regarded as the cold and flu season.

Increased nasal secretion and mucus production in the patients’ respiratory tract due to inflammation contribute to coughing.

Those with preconditions such as rhinitis, asthma or chronic bronchitis might have a more lasting cough when they catch a cold.

A cough caused by postnasal drip would get worse at night while the breathing muscles are relaxed, narrowing the tract and making it even more sensitive to irritants.

A persistent cough could be a possible sign of lung cancer or acid reflux.

People with heart ailments might experience chronic coughing as the buildup of fluid in the lungs caused by weakened pumping action of the heart would induce coughs.

Certain prescribed medicines for treating high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease could also induce coughing.

People who suffer from persistent coughs, including smokers, should consult a specialist in otorhinolaryngology (study of diseases of the ear, nose and throat) and undergo a checkup to confirm whether there is a respiratory infection, a postnasal drip, or a more serious illness such as pulmonary emphysema and lung cancer.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 20.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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FHKAM (Otorhinolaryngology)

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