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Has your cough lasted unusually long? Do you know when is the right time to seek medical advice if your cough has been persisting? Should antibiotics be taken for treating coughs? Read on to find out how long should the irritating cough last?

Cough can be defined as a reflex action of our body to clear our airways of any mucous or irritant such as smoke or dust. Coughs are of two types – dry cough and chesty cough.

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Dry coughs are commonly associated with a ticklish sensation in the throat that triggers the coughing. Dry cough, also known as nonproductive cough, happens due to the inflammation of the throat and upper airways. Thick mucus or phlegm is not produced in dry cough. Common cold and flu which are associated with inflammation in throat and upper airways are the main causes of dry cough. In a person experiencing dry cough, the brain thinks that the inflammation is an alien object and tries to get rid of it by coughing.

Another common type of cough is the chesty or productive cough which is associated with the production of phlegm. This kind of cough is helpful in removing the phlegm from the lung passages.

Causes of Cough

Most forms of coughs are caused by viral infections. As mentioned earlier, cough is an automatic response of our body to a foreign presence. The common causes of productive coughs are listed below:

Causes of Productive Coughs

Productive cough, which is associated with the formation of mucus, should not be suppressed as it actually helps in clearing up the lung passages. The mucus could either have drained from the sinuses or from the back of the throat from the nose. It can also come up from the lungs. The common causes of productive coughs are listed below:

  • Viral illness:Viral illness often triggers productive cough. The mucous, in a majority of such cases, drains down from the back of the throat.
  • Chronic lung disease: Productive cough can also be an indicator of a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Many a times, the stomach acid might back up into the esophagus and the person experiences coughing while sleeping. Productive coughing can also be a symptom of Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease.
  • Infections: Various types of infections of the upper air passages or the lungs can trigger productive coughs. Productive cough can be a symptom of diseases such as bronchitis, tuberculosis, sinusitis, or pneumonia.
  • Smoking or use of tobacco: People who smoke or use various other forms of tobacco often experience productive cough. Chronic coughing can be a symptom of lung damage. It might also be triggered by irritation of esophagus or the throat.

Causes of Nonproductive Coughs

Nonproductive coughs are dry and are not associated with the production of mucus. Common causes of nonproductive coughs are listed below:

  • Bronchospasm: A spasm in the bronchial tube, a condition commonly termed as bronchospasm, might trigger nonproductive cough at night. It is often caused by some form of irritation in the bronchial tubes.
  • Viral infection: Viral illness is often followed by dry cough, which might even continue for weeks. The cough gets worse at night.
  • Allergies: Frequent sneezing and dry cough are indicators of allergic rhinitis.
  • Exposure to pollutants: Exposure to pollutants in the form of chemicals, fumes, or dust in the environment can also trigger nonproductive cough.
  • Asthma: One of the main symptoms of asthma is a chronic, dry cough.
  • “How Long Does a Cough Last? Comparing Patients’ Expectations With Data From a Systematic Review of the Literature”, by Mark H. Ebell, et al. Published in the January/February 2013 issue of Annals of Family Medicine, accessed on March 4, 2013
  • “Prevalence, pathogenesis, and causes of chronic cough”, by K F Chung, et al. Published in the April, 2008 issue of Lancet, accessed on March 4, 2013.
  • Photo courtesy of dtrimarchi on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/dtrimarchi/4215436541

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