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 at some time or other as part of normal body physiology and protective mechanism.
But this cough can be problematic if it is
a) Hoarse, exhausting, and weakening the body. This can be stressful on the heart.
b) If it is 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
1) 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.
Factors like 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 a cough seen in case of severe infection by virus or bacteria.
The cases like tuberculosis, cold, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), bronchitis, pneumonia, and 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 to 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 the throat or bronchi by smoke, dust, harsh fumes (like chilly powder, organic liquids, acids, etc.), inflammation of the throat or bronchi by infection/
6) Wet cough
The cough, which brings phlegm out from the 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 and the microbes in it indicate the disease and its severity.
Types of cough based on the symptoms
If we notice cough, not all coughing is similar. They vary as
1) 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 in those with smoking habits and those with colds, flu, COPD, etc.
Quitting smoking and control of infections and inflammation will help reduce this type of cough.
2) Cough at night
Cough at night is one of the symptoms of tuberculosis, whooping, and a few other diseases.
Some old people also develop a cough at night, and the difference is in TB patients, the cough can be a wet type, while in others just a dry one.
Dry cough can be managed by antitussives easily, but wet cough needs antibiotics and other medicines.
3) 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 the cough.
Since we see the cough is mostly due to an allergy to the throat or bronchi, the simple home remedies for cough are
a) Hot or warm water
Drinking or sipping warm water or liquids mitigates the irritation in the throat.
b) 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.
Throat soothing agents like glycerin and milk, but do not use buttermilk 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.
Frequently asked questions and answers.
Can drinking cold water cause a dry cough
Yes, cold water can irritate the throat and induce a cough.
Also, in the cold season with a throat infection or flu, cold water can precipitate the cough as well as the inflammation.
Hence, it is advised to drink hot water during cold weather, flu, or throat infection.
Why do I cough when I drink something cold?
Cold drinks induce bronchospasm while passing through the esophagus, which is near the bronchi.
Cold drinks can also irritate the throat and trigger a reflexive cough.