Most of us have probably experienced a cough at some point in our lives. It is one of the most common reasons for seeking medical care. A cough can be dry and accompanied by an aching pain at the back of your throat. It may also be a wet, hacking cough where you spit out bouts of phlegm. Regardless, coughing can cause a lot of discomfort and disruption in your daily life. So here are some signs to help you tell normal coughing episodes apart from the alarming ones. Here you can learn how coughing works and tell whether a coughing episode versus is a cause for alarm. 

How Cough Works

Here’s how coughing works: a cough starts with a rapid inhalation of air that fills your lungs. The glottis, which is a valve that controls airflow, then closes. Then, muscles in the chest and diaphragm contract to generate the necessary pressure to expel air, followed by the sudden opening of the glottis. The resulting cough can then clear obstructions from your airway up to your throat, which is easier to let out. 

Apart from this amazing reflex, mucus also plays a key role in our body’s defenses. It not only acts as a lubricant to ensure optimal functioning, but it also traps and tries to dissolve any particles or bacteria that you inhale. The hair-like cilia that line your airways then beat in upward movements, making sure these substances do not reach your lungs. 

When you are healthy, all these mechanisms work smoothly and effectively. However, when these mechanisms fail, certain diseases can occur. For example, overproduction of mucus often appears in conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cystic fibrosis. Another culprit of COPD that smoking aggravates is ciliary dysfunction (the tiny hair-like structures on the surface of the airways stop pushing mucus outward). When mucus accumulates heavily in your airways, this can be difficult to clear and lead to chronic disease in the long run.

By knowing how coughing works, you can tell there is a lot that goes on when you cough. But, considering we are still in aIn this time of the pandemic, we should definitely not overlook the basics when it comes to our health: a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. These are simple ways you can keep your body strong and functioning optimally.

Common Causes

how coughing works
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Many diseases manifest with a cough, including COVID-19. Here are some of the most common culprits to suspect:

  • Upper respiratory tract infections – Nose and throat diseases linked to coughing, fever, sore throat, and runny nose. Viruses usually cause them.
  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) – This condition may look like a common cold, with symptoms like dry cough, sneezing, and a runny nose. 
  • Irritants – Harmful fumes or vapors can inflame your airways and lead to a cough.
  • Lower respiratory tract infections  – Often come with a deep cough that lingers along with fever. The culprits are usually more severe viral and bacterial infections. Common conditions include bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Pulmonary embolism – This is a life-threatening condition wherein a blood clot from the legs lodges in the lungs that causing sudden shortness of breath.
  • Lung collapse (pneumothorax) – The lungs collapse due to chest trauma. Symptoms include sudden chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Heart failure – When your heart is weak or diseased, this can cause fluid to build up in the lungs. This congestion may manifest with a cough or shortness of breath that worsens over time.
  • Post-nasal drip – The chronic dripping of mucus from the back of the nose can lead to a dry cough. This lingering cough usually happens after an infection or when an allergen keeps irritating you.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) – This is a digestive disorder that causes the acid in your stomach to reflux back into your esophagus. When this happens, you may experience heartburn along with a dry cough.

Many diseases cause a cough, so be aware of your symptoms. Also, pay attention to the type of cough, what happened before it, and how long it lasts. These clues can help your doctor help you.

Cough and COVID-19

Cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 alongside fever, sore throat, and fatigue. As we all know, COVID-19 is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, which was first reported in Wuhan, China. Other symptoms include loss of taste or smell, chills, shortness of breath, and persistent pain or pressure in the chest. About 80% of people infected with COVID-19 recover from the disease without needing hospitalization, while 15% become seriously ill and require oxygen. The remaining 5% become critically ill and need intensive care. 

If you experience symptoms, it is important to get tested immediately. RT-PCR is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing. In addition, you must also do isolation and quarantine right away to prevent the spreading of the disease. To remember the difference between these two, we basically isolate the person with symptoms while quarantining the close contacts. In both instances, they should stay home in separate rooms with their own bathrooms to avoid contact with other members who have not been exposed.

Apart from wearing your mask, washing your hands, and avoiding crowded places, another way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. While some people debate over which vaccine brand to avail of or whether or not they work, overwhelming research has shown the benefits of getting vaccinated versus not at all. Get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Cough etiquette

how coughing works woman
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While there are different reasons that can cause a cough, it is prudent to treat every cough like it is infectious. In this time of the pandemic, we can never be too sure (unless we get tested) that we are COVID-free. Here are some ways we can prevent the spread of disease:

  • Cover your nose and mouth whenever you cough or sneeze
  • Throw used tissues in the trash
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow if you do not have tissue on hand
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and immediately after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Properly wear your mask by ensuring it covers your nose, mouth, and chin
  • Do not use masks with valves
  • If you cannot avoid crowded spaces or indoor settings, open a window to increase ventilation and keep your mask on 
  • Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched objects such as door handles, faucets, and phone screens

These are simple ways we can help curb the spread of disease. Not only are we doing ourselves a favor, but we are also protecting our family members and communities in the process.

Click here to learn more about coughkey facts, and COVID-19