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Common causes for common cold

  • Published at 12:04 pm December 5th, 2014
Common causes for common cold

Coughing is a reflex that keeps your throat and airways clear. Although it can be annoying, coughing helps your body to heal or protect itself. But too much coughing may mean you have a disease or disorder.

Coughs can be either acute or chronic. Frequent coughing usually indicates the presence of a disease. Many viruses and bacteria augment evolution by causing the host to cough, which helps to spread the disease to new hosts. Most of the time, irregular coughing is caused by a respiratory tract infection but can also be triggered by choking, smoking, air pollution, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, post-nasal drip, chronic bronchitis, lung tumors, heart failure and medications such as ACE inhibitors.

Medication cough

Symptoms: A dry, niggling cough that’s often worse at night.

Causes: ACE inhibitors, a drug used to control high blood pressure, can cause a chronic cough in up to 20% of patients.

Treatments: If your cough coincided with starting medication, ask your doctor about an alternative drug.

Heart problems

Symptoms: Persistent coughing or wheezing, plus tiredness, breathlessness on exertion and fluid retention.

Causes: With heart issues, fluid can build up in the lungs and cause a cough.

Treatments: See your GP now. If they suspect heart problems, you’ll be referred for an ECG and blood tests. Treatments include ACE inhibitors to prevent fluid build-up and beta-blockers to slow the heart rate.

Post-viral cough

Symptoms: An irritating cough following a cold.

Causes: It’s normal to have a cough with a virus as it’s triggered by mucus draining down the back of the throat. The inflammation this causes often stays long after the initial illness.

Treatments: 90% of cases aren’t bacterial, so antibiotics won’t help. Opt for an over-the-counter syrup (such as Bisolvon Chesty to loosen phlegm. Even a hot drink can promote secretions in the airways, soothing irritation. If your sinuses are still inflamed, your GP can prescribe a steroid nose spray.

Chest infection

Symptoms: A hacking cough with greenish phlegm, plus a fever that follows a cold.

Causes: A chest infection or acute bronchitis affects the lower airways. It’s generally caused by the same viruses that give rise to colds, but in this case inflammation spreads lower into the lungs, leaving the area open to attack by bacteria.

Treatments: Drink plenty of fluids and take paracetamol to reduce a fever. Because most bronchitis is caused by a virus, your doctor will only prescribe antibiotics if he suspects a secondary bacterial infection has occurred.


Symptoms: A “throat” cough following a meal or a cough that wakes you up at night, often with a nasty acid taste in your mouth.

Causes: Heartburn (acid reflux) occurs when stomach acid flows back up the oesophagus, irritating the throat and triggering a cough. Large or rich meals late at night are triggers.

Treatments: Sleeping with an extra pillow can help reduce the backflow of acid. If it’s occasional, a simple over-the-counter anti-reflux treatment,

such as Zantac, will reduce the production of stomach acid. If it’s frequent, talk to your GP who may want to investigate.


Symptoms: A chronic dry cough that’s worse at night, disturbing sleep, and sometimes accompanied by wheezing and shortness of breath.

Causes: An irritating night cough is often the first sign of asthma, especially in children, but you can develop it at any age.

This type of cough can also be an indication that asthma is worsening or not being adequately controlled.

Treatments: The first thing your GP will try is a reliever inhaler, which releases medication to open the airways. In more severe cases, a preventer inhaler is prescribed, which contains a steroid to reduce airway inflammation.

Smoker’s cough

Symptoms: It’s easy to get used to a smoker’s cough, but if it changes in any way − for example, becomes more frequent or you cough up blood − it needs to be checked out immediately.

Causes: Smoking irritates the airways, causing a cough which in the long-term can be a sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer.  

Treat it: If you’re a smoker or ex-smoker with a persistent cough, your GP should send you for an X-ray. It’s never too late to quit. Giving up will lessen or abolish a cough in 94 per cent of people in four weeks. It will also stop the rate of deterioration in COPD and cut the risk of lung cancer death.

Watch for a whoop

Whooping cough has been on the rise in recent years and may produce coughing fits with a “whoop” sound. It’s most dangerous for babies, so see a GP for treatment immediately. 

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