Cough is a protective reflex of the respiratory system. It occurs as a normal physiological process and also sometimes due to disease conditions.
Why do we cough?
Cough is intended to expel anything by force of air out of the respiratory tract. Cough is a natural phenomenon and everyone, including animals, coughs some time or other as part of normal body physiology and protective mechanism.
But this cough can be problematic if it is
a) Very hoarse, exhausting and weakening the body. This can be stressful on the heart.
b) If it is of long-standing, leading to disturbance of normal life like sleep and work.
c) If it expels blood etc.
Reasons for cough and types of cough:
Cough, in general, is meant to expel something. So different types of cough can be understood as
- Obstructive cough: This is a cough seen when there is an obstruction or material entry into the respiratory tract instead of the gut. It is commonly seen when we drink water hastily. If water or food particles drip into the respiratory tract then we cough heavily as the water is tried to be expelled from the tract by reflex activity.
2) Allergic cough: It happens due to allergens or substances which cause allergy to the respiratory tract. Ex: Dust, irritating chemicals, pollen from plants, etc. This cough can be severe and exhausting with strain on the heart, especially in children and old age people.
3) Inflammatory cough: This is due to inflammation of the respiratory tract whereby there is soreness and redness of mucous layers. This inflammation is irritating to the tissue, and hence there arises cough.
4) Infectious cough: This is cough seen in case of severe infection by virus or bacteria. The cases like tuberculosis, cold, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), bronchitis, pneumonia, diphtheria show these cough symptoms.
In fact, it is an indicative sign of tuberculosis if the cough lasts for more than 2 weeks, especially at night.
Here the infection by bacteria or viruses leads to inflammatory reactions and also accumulation of phlegm.
During these infections, the respiratory tract is susceptible, and hence even small allergy leads to hoarse and prolonged coughs.
Further, phlegm accumulation is obstructive for normal breathing, so the tract tries to expel the accumulated phlegm for free respiration.
This cough accompanied by phlegm expulsion is termed as ‘wet cough.’
Ex: Whooping cough.
5) Dry cough: This is not a hoarse cough. Dry cough symptoms are that it is not from deep; it is from the throat itself. Even there is no phlegm expulsion by cough. It is due to allergens or mild inflammations of the throat especially.
Reasons for dry cough include mostly irritation to throat or bronchi by smoke, dust, harsh fumes (like chilly powder, organic liquids, acids, etc.), inflammation of throat or bronchi by infection/
6) Wet cough: Cough which brings phlegm out from lungs is wet.
It is intended to expel phlegm by cough.
As mentioned above it is seen during infectious diseases like tuberculosis. Here the phlegm acts as a diagnostic aid.
The color of the phlegm, the microbes in it indicate the disease and its severity.
Types of cough based on the symptoms
If we notice cough, not all coughing are similar. They vary as
a) Continuous cough: This is a symptom seen especially in old age people with respiratory disorders and also sometimes in youngsters and adults. The cough is continuous and may be problematic such that the person has no time to breathe and gasps for air.
The reason seems to be increased sensitivity of the respiratory tract to even normal dust and fumes. This type of chronic cough develops even in those with smoking habits and those with cold, flu, COPD, etc. Quitting smoking and decrease of infection , inflammation will help reduce this type of cough.
b) Cough at night: Cough at night is one of the symptoms of tuberculosis, whooping and few other diseases. Some old people also develop a cough at night, and the difference is in TB patients, cough can be wet type while in other just a dry one. Dry cough can be managed by antitussives easily, but wet cough needs antibiotics and other medicines.
c) Blood in cough: This is due to some blood or clot in the lungs being expelled while coughing. It has many reasons, so check for details in the official link blood in cough.
Since we see the cough is mostly due to allergy of throat or bronchi, the simple home remedies for cough are
i) Hot or warm water: Drinking or sipping warm water or liquids mitigate the irritation in the throat.
ii) Use of Condiments like clove: Clove is a bit irritating substance. So when retained in the mouth, it acts as a counter-irritant and mitigates cough.
iii) Demulcents: Throat soothing agents like glycerin, milk but do not use butter milk as it may enhance infection if you have pneumonia or bacterial bronchitis.
The types of cough described above seem to be exhaustive, and if any of the symptoms of a cough are found, one needs to take medical help.