05 Jul 2022 |

What the puff? Could it be Asthma? - When is a cough not "just a cough"?

What the puff? Could it be Asthma? - When is a cough not "just a cough"?

Coughing is a normal reflex to protect and clean our airways (respiratory tract). Coughing clears irritating material (e.g., smoke or dust) and excess secretions (mucus, sputum, phlegm) from our throat, air passages and lungs.

Cough is a symptom of a range of medical conditions and sometimes a person may have more than one reason for coughing. Some causes of coughing include:

  • Respiratory tract infections (e.g., colds, bronchitis, croup, whooping cough, pneumonia)
  • Asthma
  • Postnasal drip (catarrh) – excess nasal secretions which run down into the back of the throat. Often caused by allergy, common colds, or sinus infection.
  • Inhaled irritants (e.g., cigarette smoke, dust, fumes, a foreign body)
  • Lung disease (e.g., cystic fibrosis, COPD, cancer)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn) – stomach acid rises up into the oesophagus and triggers coughing
  • Heart failure
  • Anxiety and habit
  • Some medicines (e.g., ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
  • It lasts more than three weeks (or one week for a child) or regularly returns. Any child under five years of age with a cough needs to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
  • It is mainly at night
  • You are wheezy, short of breath or have chest pain or pain when breathing in
  • You are coughing up blood or green, yellow, brown, or rust coloured mucus
  • It causes severe pain, fainting, vomiting or exhaustion
  • It has changed
  • You also have a fever, rash, weight loss, sinus pain or generally feel unwell

Sometimes coughing can relate to a certain activity (e.g., exercise, eating, posture), situation or time of day. Take notice of when and how a cough starts and how long it lasts. A cough may be only one of your symptoms. Watch for any other signs of illness or discomfort (e.g., allergy, pain, wheezing). By describing your cough, you can help a doctor or pharmacist to choose the best treatment for you.

Seek medical advice about your cough if:

Information adapted from Coughs: PSA Self Care 2010.

Please note Asthma can be diagnosed at any age.

For a persistent cough and once other causes are eliminated you may also request your GP send a referral to AFNT to see one of our friendly Respiratory health educators for education and a lung function test.

© Asthma Foundation NT 2019

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