While it’s impossible to always pinpoint a cough by how it sounds, there are some key differences to give you clues as to what’s going on. Here’s how to tell what that cough really means.
Other telltale symptoms: The cough is worse at night; there’s a tickly feeling at the back of your throat. If it’s due to allergies you may also have itchy eyes and sneezing.
Diagnosis and Rx: If you suspect allergies, try an over-the-counter antihistamine. But if that doesn’t help after a couple weeks, see your doctor, who can refer you to an allergist for skin testing. If it’s due to a residual cold, you can try natural remedies like saline washes and steam to help relieve congestion, but if the cough lingers for more than a week see your doctor to rule out a sinus infection, which might require antibiotics.
Diagnosis and Rx: To check for asthma, your doctor will most likely order spirometry, a lung function test, he says. To treat it, there are two types of medications: quick-relief drugs (bronchodilators like albuterol, which make it easier to breathe) and drugs you take daily to keep asthma under control, such as leukotriene modifiers(like Singulair).
Other telltale symptoms: Your cough gets worse when you’re lying down or eating. “The classic sign is coughing that starts as soon as you lie down in bed at night,” says Dr. Parsons. About 75% of GERD patients with chronic cough have no other symptoms, but if you do they can include heartburn and hoarseness.
Diagnosis and Rx: Tests may include an x-ray of your upper GI tract and/or an endoscopy (where your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube down your throat to examine it). GERD is treated with OTC or prescription meds to reduce acid production, like Pepcid AC, Zantac, or Prilosec.
quicklist:4category: title:COPDurl:text:Sounds like: A chronic, hacking cough that produces a lot of mucus, particularly in the morning, Dr. Parsons says. COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, includes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema; the main cause is smoking.
Other telltale symptoms: The cough gets better as the day progresses; shortness of breath, especially with physical activity; wheezing, fatigue, and chest tightness.
Diagnosis and Rx: Your doctor will usually recommend lung function tests such as spirometry and a chest x-ray. The disease is treated with meds like bronchodilators and inhaled steroids; it’s also imperative to stop smoking. In extreme cases, you may need oxygen therapy.
Other telltale symptoms: Cough begins a few weeks after starting these meds, Dr. Parsons says.
Diagnosis and Rx: Talk to your doctor. If your cough is mild, you may be okay switching to a different ACE inhibitor, he says, but if it’s severe, you’ll want to switch to another type of blood pressure med entirely, such as an angiotensin receptor blocker or ARB, like Cozaar.
Other telltale symptoms: Fever, chills, trouble breathing, pain when breathing in deeply or coughing
Diagnosis and Rx: Your doctor can usually tell if you have pneumonia by listening to your chest with a stethoscope, although she may order an x-ray and blood tests to determine if it’s viral or bacterial, Dr. Parsons says. Treatment for the latter is antibiotics; if it’s viral, the only remedy is rest, OTC cough meds, and chicken soup.
Other telltale symptoms: The first symptoms are similar to the common cold: stuffy, runny nose, watery eyes, fever, and cough. But after about a week the classic coughing signs emerge, with hacking so intense you may throw up or turn red or blue, he says.
Diagnosis and Rx: Pertussis is diagnosed with blood tests and a chest X-ray. It’s treated with antibiotics.