How Do You Diagnose and Treat Chronic Cough?
The most important thing to remember is that a cough that lasts for 8 weeks or longer is considered a chronic cough. Respiratory infection or a common cold is usually not the cause of chronic cough. When lasting longer than 2 months, a chronic cough not only becomes annoying and irritating but it may also start impacting your daily quality of life.
In most instances, chronic cough is a symptom of some condition/ disease like COPD, Allergies, Asthma or Pneumonia. Treatment of these underlying diseases leads to the cure of chronic cough.
How is Chronic Cough Diagnosed?
To find out the cause of chronic cough, a doctor asks several questions about your past health, infections, symptoms, etc. They also do a physical exam and investigate through tests.
Past Medical History
Your doctor will ask questions about your overall health, symptoms of cough and other conditions, like:
- How long have you been coughing?
- Is your cough dry or does it bring out mucus?
- What is the consistency and color of the mucus?
- Have you noticed any blood in the mucus?
- Are there any triggers for the cough like- weather, air quality, bedtimes, exposures, etc.?
- Are you suffering from any medical conditions or diseases?
- Have you been close to anyone who has similar symptoms or any respiratory infection such as bronchitis, flu, tuberculosis or pneumonia?
- Do you experience frequent indigestion or heartburn?
- Do you have difficulty in swallowing?
- Have you started any new medication?
- What is your work environment like- dusty, damp, cold, etc.?
- Have you changed anything recently in your home like- new carpet/ curtains, heating or air conditioning system, new pets, etc.?
- Do you have any known allergies or experience post nasal drip?
- Have you recently traveled?
- Do you smoke cigarettes, cigars or e-cigarettes?
- Do you take any recreational drugs?
At The Allergy Clinic, your vital signs like temperature and blood pressure will also be checked. Oxygen level in the blood is obtained by attaching a small painless clip on your finger. The doctor may examine your throat, nose, and ears if necessary. They will also check your lungs and heart with a stethoscope.
Based on the examination, your doctor will recommend certain tests, which may include:
- Skin prick test: to check for signs of allergies
- Spirometry: The patient is asked to breathe out with force into a small plastic device to measure how well you can exhale.
- Chest X-ray
- Blood test: To look for infection
- Sputum/ mucus sample test: To look for infection
- CT scan of the chest: to get a better picture of internal structures of your chest
How is Chronic Cough Treated?
The treatment plan of chronic cough depends on the underlying condition causing it. For example:
If Asthma is causing chronic cough, your doctor will prescribe inhalers with bronchodilators and/ steroids. These drugs help in reducing the inflammation in the airways of the lungs.
If GERD is the cause, the treatment may include using prescription medicines such as Ranitidine, Omeprazole, Lansoprazole, etc. to reduce acid production in the stomach. Your doctor may also advise you to avoid spicy foods before bed-time.
In the case of Bronchitis or pneumonia, the doctor usually prescribes antibiotics like Azithromycin or Cefuroxime to treat the bacterial infection. They may also advise some drugs to give you relief from the symptoms.
If the cause of chronic cough is a post-nasal drip, then your doctor will prescribe over-the-counter decongestants to relieve the symptoms. Antibiotics may also be given if the post-nasal drip is due to sinusitis. A nasal spray of a steroid called Fluticasone also helps in reducing post-nasal drip.