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What your cough can tell you

Coughs can strike at any time of the year, but they are especially common during winter when colds, cases of flu and bronchitis are most prevalent. Coughs are symptoms that occur in children and adults and the type of cough can tell you more about the illness.

If you remember the last time you had a cough, you may note that it got worse at night. Not only are you more aware of the throat irritation, but your sinuses drain down your throat while you lie in bed. This makes coughs worse at night than they are during the day.

Although coughs aren’t usually cause for too much concern, a trip to the doctor or pharmacist can help you treat it sooner with the correct medication. Here are some of the most common types of coughs and what they can tell you.

  • Barking cough – A harsh ‘barking’ cough is caused by the inflammation of the voice box and windpipe. It can be caused by allergies, a drop in temperature at night or a viral infection. Most barking coughs can be treated at home with cough syrup and standard medication but if it gets bad, phone a doctor to see if it’s cause for concern.
  • Common cold cough – Most common colds cause the patient to cough. It can be a wet or dry cough and will usually last for a week or so, even after the other symptoms have disappeared. This can be treated with standard medication at home.
  • Cough with vomiting – Sometimes rapid and vigorous coughing can trigger the gag reflex, especially in children. Vomiting with a cough is nothing too serious, but if the vomiting persists then you should go see a doctor.
  • Fever with cough – If you have a mild fever (temperature higher than 39 degrees Celcius), runny nose, rapid breath and a cough, it could be a sign of pneumonia. Any fever symptoms accompanied by a cough should warrant a visit to the doctor soon.
  • Persistent cough – Sometimes coughs can last for a few weeks, most commonly after a bad cold. A persistent cough can be a sign of allergies, asthma or a chronic infection of the sinuses or airways. If a cough lasts for a month or more, you should see a doctor to find a quick cure.
  • Stridor – This is when you inhale after a cough and a harsh noise can be heard from the throat. A lot of children have stridor when they develop a cough, and is a sign of swelling of the upper airway. The swelling is usually caused by a more serious virus or infection such as epiglottitis and should be looked at by a doctor immediately.
  • Wheezing with cough – If you feel wheezy when breathing out after a cough, it could be a sign of a slightly swollen airway. This can be caused by a respiratory infection such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia, or by asthma. If your throat feels sore and inflamed, visit a doctor to determine the cause of the infection.
  • Whooping cough – This occurs when a ‘whooping’ sound happens after a bout of rapid coughing as you try to take a deep breath. A whooping cough is a symptom of pertussis which can affect children who have not received their DTP vaccinations. A whooping cough in infants can be serious, but with children and adults, it’s less cause for concern.

If you suffer from any cough, even a common cold cough, the best solution is to see a doctor or pharmacist so that you can be prescribed the right medication for the job. Home remedies and standard cough syrup may alleviate the symptoms but if the cough is unpleasant, seek professional help.

Please note: This information is not a real substitute for professional medical care and should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any illnesses. It is purely for informational purposes only.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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