Why Am I Coughing?

Cough is a natural reflex that is meant to clear the airway of foreign material or irritants. The airway, which includes the larynx(voice box),pharynx(throat), trachea(windpipe), bronchi (large airways going to the lungs), bronchioles (small airways going to the lungs), and alveoli (lung tissue) can be affected at any site by many things that can cause cough.  The nerve that sets off the cough reflex also innervates the esophagus so problems inside the esophagus can also cause cough.

Causes of Cough:

A cough may be a simple irritation of the throat, vocal cords, or airway from allergies, infection, or reflux. However, it may also be an early sign of severe disease in the throat, airways, or esophagus that needs immediate treatment. A cough lasting longer than one week should be evaluated by a physician specializing in these areas. The otolaryngologist can help the general physician or lung specialist by evaluating other areas that may be causing the cough.

Sinus drainage and allergies are a common cause of cough and chronic sinus infections may be responsible for a cough that goes on for greater than 6 weeks.  Any cough lasting longer than 6 weeks is considered "chronic" and may require additional treatment (Read more about Chronic Cough here).

Evaluation and Treatment:

A cough is a very general symptom that needs a thorough evaluation of the upper and lower airways, chest, and throat. Dr. Anderson will evaluate the nose and sinuses, throat and vocal cords, and order chest imaging if necessary.  She may also need to evaluate the esophagus. She will rely on other specialists such as pulmonologists, neurologists, or allergists if necessary to completely evaluate the problem. Bloodwork or x-rays may be necessary to exclude infection or other problems.

Depending on the diagnosis, you may require medication, therapy, or surgery.