Understanding Your Chronic Cough
Coughing can be uncomfortable, but it’s also disruptive. When the cough continues, you may start to feel frustrated, embarrassed, and simply exhausted. And while many COPD patients struggle with a bad cough that comes and goes, some suffer from a nearly constant cough – one that interferes with everything from communication to daily activity to sleep.
Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for COPD and chronic cough, partly because doctors are divided on whether coughing should be restrained or allowed to continue unimpeded. Learn how coughing works for and against your COPD, so you and your doctor can make a sound decision when it comes to treatment.
What Your Cough is Telling You
A deep, productive cough is one of the most prevalent symptoms of COPD, and although it can sound and feel awful, it’s not necessarily bad for your lungs. Getting rid of mucus is an important part of breathing easier, and deep coughing is your body’s way of expelling the phlegm that’s blocking your airways. A strong cough is especially helpful to bring up the sputum from the deepest recesses of your bronchial tubes, which is why many pulmonary doctors suggest controlled coughing to make the most out of those muscle contractions.
Although coughing is ultimately helpful for your breathing, an increase in severity or frequency can be alarming, and may even be cause for concern. Visit your doctor if you notice:
- A change in the amount or color of your sputum
- Blood in your mucus
- You’re coughing more than usual
- Your coughing begins to interfere with speaking, walking, and modest activity
If your cough begins to last for longer periods or is triggered by anything and everything, you may be dealing with a COPD exacerbation or another respiratory illness (known as a co-morbidity). Pneumonia, influenza, or even acid reflux can prolong your cough and make it uncomfortable to clear your airways.
The most important step is an accurate diagnosis, which will require a trip to the doctor’s office and perhaps a series of breathing and blood tests. If your doctor can trace the cough to another infection or illness, you can begin appropriate treatment, and hopefully reduce your cough quickly. If it turns out that your COPD is to blame, you may be able to make some changes in your disease management to quell some of the coughing.
Next page: tips to ease a constant cough.