A cough that won’t go away causes many people to fear the worst. But a nagging cough isn’t always a sign of a severe underlying condition. It could be upper airway cough syndrome, one of the most common causes of chronic cough in adults.
What Is Upper Airway Cough Syndrome?
In the broadest terms, upper airway cough syndrome (UACS) is a chronic cough featuring odd sensations in the upper airway.
Some definitions state a tickling cough that’s worse in the mornings and at night. Others report it as a sensation of something stuck in the throat or the presence of mucus in the throat. Regardless, a peculiar sensation in the throat is pivotal to the diagnosis.
A complete definition of UACS is chronic upper respiratory tract irritation and hypersensitive cough receptors. Symptoms include:
- Persistent cough
- Abnormal or unpleasant sensations in the throat
- Frequent throat clearing
- Postnasal drip
- Cobblestone mucosa
Previously, UACS was called postnasal drip syndrome. It’s unclear whether the nasal secretions that drain into the throat cause the cough or if the direct irritation of the receptors is responsible. As a result, the American College of Chest Physicians renamed it in 2006.
UACS is one of the most common causes of chronic cough. But, some physicians challenge its existence as a distinct clinical entity. They also question the precision of clinical assessment. Firstly, experts argue that many UACS features form part of a general cough hypersensitivity syndrome. Additionally, UACS may coexist with other respiratory conditions.
What Causes Upper Airway Cough Syndrome?
While the exact cause is unclear, researchers believe it’s sinonasal in origin, and some factors aggravate symptoms of UACS. In general, whenever there’s more nasal secretions, the risk of UACS increases.
Allergies are one of the culprits that trigger the body to produce more mucus. Some common allergies include:
- Pet dander
- Cleaning products
Seasonal allergies also cause a significant increase in secretions. Plants releasing pollen seem to be particularly potent. But, weather changes, such as cold or dry winter air, may also irritate the nasal passages and cause the body to produce more mucus.
Infections like the common cold and flu are also more prevalent during colder months. The body reacts to these germs by producing more mucus to flush them out.
Another cause may be nasal abnormalities that cause mucus to drain incorrectly. The excess mucus may irritate cough receptors and worsen symptoms.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Upper Airway Cough Syndrome?
There’s no diagnostic tool for UACS, and doctors mostly rely on a series of tests to diagnose the condition. And since chronic cough is one of the primary complaints, a clinician usually eliminates pulmonary causes first. Assessment includes:
- A physical exam and patient history
- Chest x-rays
- Blood tests
- Pulmonary function tests
If the evaluation doesn’t reveal the cause of a chronic cough, your doctor may start a therapeutic trial. For example, your doctor may suspect allergic rhinitis and prescribe antihistamines. However, if a cough persists for more than a week after treatment begins, your doctor may switch medication or request sinus x-rays.
Rhinitis is one of the primary causes of UACS, and each type responds to different treatments. Therefore, it may take a while to receive a diagnosis.
Keeping track of your cough can help eliminate some of the steps towards a diagnosis. When a cough starts, how often you cough and cough more at certain times can help point your doctor in the right direction.
Hyfe App makes cough tracking easy. It also tracks your cough while you sleep. So you can get an accurate indication of how much you’re coughing, even when you’re not aware of it.
When Should I See A Doctor?
A nagging cough that lasts more than eight weeks warrants a doctor’s visit. But eight weeks is a long time, so it’s within reason to speak to your doctor before then if you’re concerned.
You should also check with your doctor if your persistent cough comes with other symptoms like:
- Coughing up blood
- Dizziness or fainting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
It’s best not to wait for your cough to sort itself out. Long-term coughing can lead to complications such as incontinence or fractured ribs. Rather see your doctor about a cough, figure out the underlying cause, and get yourself on the road to health.
Upper airway cough syndrome is a treatable condition that affects millions of adults worldwide. You can try to reduce coughing with medication or eliminate triggers or allergens whenever possible. UACS is annoying, but in many cases, it clears up on its own. If you experience persistent symptoms, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Have you had upper airway cough syndrome? Share your experience in the comment section below!