woman coughing
Respiratory Conditions

What's Causing That Nagging Cough?

A nagging cough is very common, but can also be extremely worrisome, according to Harvard Medical School experts.

Many people associate a persistent cough with lung cancer. But, according to an article in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, there may be other factors at work, including postnasal drip; asthma; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); chronic bronchitis; and treatment with ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure.

Some less common causes, the Harvard experts say, are airborne irritants; aspiration while swallowing; heart failure; lung infections; whooping cough; lung cancer or other lung diseases; psychological factors;    Aspiration during swallowing

Smokers’ cough may be caused, the article says, by the tobacco smoke; lung cancer; or lung infections.

There are a variety of tests to find the cause of a chronic cough. But, the Harvard article says, although the tests are accurate, there is usually no need for them. Patients often diagnose their own disorders and can treat them. But you should review the symptoms below that do call for immediate attention.

These include: fever, especially if high or prolonged; copious production of sputum; coughing up blood; shortness of breath; weight loss; weakness, fatigue or loss; chest pain unrelated to the cough; night sweats; or wheezing.

There are dozens of over-the-counter remedies for coughs and colds. The Harvard experts say that products advertised as expectorants, which are deigned to loosen sputum, may be ineffective, according to research. They say that drinking a lot of water and using a humidified can help.

As for over-the-counter cough suppressants, they may be more effective than expectorants, the article says. Decongestants are effective only for patients who are coughing because of postnasal drip or sinusitis.

And while medicated lozenges and cough drops are among the most popular cough remedies, the article says there is no evidence that they’re more effective than plain hard candies.

To subscribe to the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, click here.