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Linda Mundorff

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The Relationship between Coughs and Illness

October 2009
By Dr. Linda Mundorff, MPH,MSN,ND,RN,CNC,CTN

What do the following four scenarios all have in common?

  1. It is early September and your spouse wakes up with a cough, stuffy nose, and teary eyes.
  2. Last January was one of the worst winters on record with single digit temperatures and blowing snows. James spent the first two weeks of February with a cough, stuffy nose, and a headache.
  3. It is late April and your garden is beginning to show signs of life. Yesterday you started coughing, it hurt to breathe, and you found a need to take rest breaks.

If you answered a cough, you would be correct. However, do not start patting yourself on the back just yet. Coughs are not alike; some coughs are warnings to something more serious like cancer or minor as in a dry throat.

For example, in scenario number one the cough is most likely related to allergies, which are highly prevalent during the transition from summer to fall. In the second scenario, the cough is probably due to a sinus infection, and in the third scenario, a possible bronchitis is brewing.

Below are the descriptions of the most common types of coughs:

Dry Throat Cough - A dry, irritated, or tickling sensation in the back of the throat. Caused by:

  • A dry throat,
  • Side effect of medication,
  • An irritant (pet dander, dust, etc),
  • Viral infection,

A Cough that Lingers - Caused by:

  • A cough that lingers for a few weeks after a serious upper respiratory illness,
  • From smoking,
  • Whooping cough,
  • Cancer

A Cough Associated with Laughter - Caused by:

  • Asthma

A Cough Associated with Shortness of breath - Caused by:

  • Cold air,
  • Exercise,
  • Asthma,
  • Smoke inhalation,
  • Irritant

A Cough Associated with Eating - Caused by:

  • Eating too fast,
  • Acid reflux,
  • Choking

A Throat-Clearing Cough - A sensation of phlegm in the back of the throat. Caused by:

  • Post-nasal drip,
  • Allergy to dairy products which causes an increase in phlegm production,
  • Infection,
  • Blocked sinuses

In conclusion, not all coughs are the same and could be a symptom of a serious illness. It is always best to consult a doctor before you try to treat it yourself with over-the-counter medication as they could actually make the cough worse, if you purchase the wrong product.

Disclaimer: Dr. Mundorff is a Registered Nurse and Board Certified Traditional Naturopath, and not a medical doctor. The information in this column is for educational purposes only and should not be used to self-diagnose and treat diseases, nor be misinterpreted as a prescription. This information is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaging in a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with her readers. In the author's best judgment, the information and opinions expressed here are accurate and sound at the time of publication. Readers who rely on the information in this book as a replacement of the advice of a medical doctor assume all risks of such conduct. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions. Please consult your doctor before starting any alternative modalities.