If you or someone you know has a chronic cough, you are well-aware of how annoying—and worrying—it can be. Coughing all the time can mess with your sleep, sap your energy and impact the lives of those around you. And it can be painful. Not only that, when it’s severe, a chronic cough can cause dizziness, vomiting, loss of bladder control and even a pulled intercostal (rib) muscle or cracked rib. So while chronic coughing may just appear to be annoying, it actually can interfere with your quality of life.
Normally, a cough is your body’s way of helping to clear your lungs. It’s a natural and protective reflex. However, if you’ve been coughing for two months or more, or over one month for a child, it falls in the range of chronic. And a chronic cough often comes with other uncomfortable or worrying symptoms, such as:
- A congested, runny nose
- Postnasal drip, which is mucous draining down the back of your throat from your nose and sinuses
- A dry or sore throat
- Frequent throat clearing
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive symptoms, such as heartburn, bad breath or a sour taste in your mouth
- While uncommon, the presence of blood in the mucous you cough up
It can be hard to pin down the cause of a chronic cough for a couple of reasons. First, there are several possible underlying causes. And second, when it comes to chronic coughing, frequently there is more than one factor at play, making it harder to come up with a clear diagnosis. Some of the most common root causes for chronic coughing include:
Postnasal Drip. Both your nose and sinuses secrete mucous, and when there’s too much mucous, it tends to drip down the back of your throat. This constant coating of mucous causes irritation to your throat making you cough. A condition called upper airway cough syndrome (UACS) is when postnasal drainage causes chronic coughing.
Allergies. Respiratory allergies can cause your nose to run, triggering postnasal drainage. In addition, allergies can cause itching and irritation to your throat—all symptoms that may produce a chronic cough.
Asthma. Asthma is a chronic condition that affects your lung’s airways. It causes them to become tight and constricted, which produces symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing. Asthma is characterized by periods of flare ups (attacks) and times of remission. A flare up can be triggered by allergies, a recent illness or specific irritants such as cold weather or exposure to certain chemicals. There is a type of asthma, called cough-variant asthma in which your only symptoms is a cough.
Respiratory infections. In many cases, a chronic cough is a remaining symptom of the flu, a severe cold, pneumonia or bronchitis that has otherwise resolved. It’s also important to know that whooping cough, tuberculosis, fungal infections and other lung conditions can cause a chronic cough.
COPD. Also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD is a term to describe chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other inflammatory lung diseases. COPD can cause a chronic cough, shortness of breath and damage to the air sacs in your lungs.
Heartburn, GERD, (Gastroesophageal reflux disease). It can be easy to overlook digestive problems as the underlying cause of a chronic cough. However, heartburn and reflux is a condition when stomach acid flows upward into your esophagus—which can cause irritation and in many instances, chronic coughing. In fact, the coughing can actually make your reflux worse, creating a negative spiral of symptoms, in which each aggravates the other.
ACE Inhibitors. A class of drugs used to lower blood pressure, called ACE Inhibitors, have a well-known and common side effect of causing a chronic cough in some people.
Treating Chronic Cough with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
If you choose to treat your chronic cough with the help of an acupuncture practitioner, their first order of business is to understand the underlying cause. They will assess your symptoms, health history, diet and current medications, and will then create treatments to target the source of your cough, usually through acupuncture, herbal medicine and food therapy.
Acupuncture is used to help resolve lingering respiratory infections, promote better immunity, suppress coughing and reduce phlegm production. Your digestion will also likely be a focus of treatment, because phlegm accumulates through poor digestion and improper diet. In addition, reflux and heartburn can be treated through acupuncture treatments.
Researchers have found that Chinese herbs are a safe and effective way to relieve post infection cough. They are also used to support acupuncture treatments. Specific herbs can be combined to reduce phlegm production, alleviate nasal congestion, boost immunity, promote good digestion and reduce your cough. In addition to herbs, your practitioner can offer you clear dietary guidelines to help reduce phlegm production, reduce GERD symptoms, promote good digestion and support immunity—all of which work to reduce your chronic cough.
The bottom line is that a chronic cough doesn’t have to disrupt your quality of life. Your acupuncture practitioner has the healing tools to help take care of your chronic cough for good. If you’d like more information on treating a chronic cough, give our clinic a call today.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.