Acute vs. Chronic Cough : Knowing the Difference and Proper Treatment

Acute vs. Chronic Cough : Knowing the Difference and Proper Treatment

Do you know what the single best way to catch people’s attention is? Cough. Every head of every person within earshot will surely turn your way when you cough.

Of course, this kind of attention isn’t the good kind. After all, coughing is a sign that something is wrong.

Coughing is a natural reflex that helps get rid of irritants in the airways. But while it is normal and necessary, it can be an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience. This is the very reason why doctors still work hard to treat cough, even if it can simply be a symptom of something else.

There are different treatments available, but each will only be effective for specific kinds of cough. In general, there’s dry cough and persistent wet cough, and these two main types of cough are medically known as acute and chronic cough.

Here, you’ll learn the key differences between the two – their causes and duration, and how they are treated.

Acute and Chronic Cough: What are They?

A good measure of the severity of cough is through its length or duration. When it lasts less than three weeks, it can be considered acute. But when it goes beyond eight weeks, it is considered chronic.

Of course, there’s also a middle category for when a cough lasts between three and eight weeks. This is called subacute cough.

Acute Cough

Of the three, acute cough is the more common type. Common colds and flu and a simple throat irritation can lead to acute cough. In most cases, this can often be solved with better self-care.

Still, there are several instances when you may need a doctor’s help with acute cough.

You may need to seek medical help if the cough comes with other symptoms like shortness of breath, fever, and blood-tinged or green phlegm output. These could be signs of a severe underlying illness, like pneumonia, flu, or even tuberculosis.

An acute cough that sounds unusually dry, wet, scratchy, hoarse, or similar to barking also needs to be examined by a doctor. It could be a symptom of a severe condition like pertussis, which is normally characterized by whooping cough.

Chronic Cough

Similarly, chronic cough also requires medical attention, as it is a sure sign of an underlying issue. Some of the most common ones are:

● Asthma
● Allergies
● Postnasal drip
● Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
● Chronic bronchitis because of smoking or use of other tobacco products

There are also several less common causes for chronic cough, including:

● Long-term lung disease
● Exposure to airborne irritants, such as smoke
● Long-lasting infection
● Side effects of medicine intake

With lung cancer, only a few people who cough are likely to have it, though persistent cough is one of the early symptoms of the disease. This is the same for heart failure, which often causes fluid to build up in the lungs.

Treating Beyond the Symptom: 5 Causes of Cough and How They Are Treated

Different causes need different remedies. Depending on the type and cause of your cough, you may need the following treatment:

1.Acute cough due to flu

Influenza, more commonly known as the “flu,” is caused by a virus. This means that acute cough treatment, in this particular case, must be treated with an antiviral medication. Rest is also crucial in allowing the body to recuperate.

2.Acute cough due to common colds

Common colds normally go away even without treatment. Often, doctors recommend drinking plenty of water to make it easier for the body to expel mucus.

Rest also helps.

While you may not need to stay in bed the whole day, dealing with cough can be quite difficult without the help of throat-soothing remedies such as honey and lozenges.

3.Acute cough due to allergies

Cough due to allergies is considered acute because the symptom usually disappears when exposure to allergens is halted.

Some of the common year-round allergy triggers include pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, and cockroaches. There are also seasonal allergens that you should be wary of, including pollen from grass, trees, and ragweed.

Each of these allergens causes a chain reaction in the body. To be more precise, the postnasal drip that normally comes with an allergic reaction is what causes hay fever cough.

Hay fever cough occurs because of the watery mucus produced along the nasal passages that drip down the throat and “tickles” it. Decongestants, or medications that dry up the postnasal drip, help treat cough due to allergies. Most of this can be bought over the counter and would normally have ingredients like phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine.

Antihistamine also offers relief for people who cough due to allergies. These medicines, which contain chlorpheniramine or diphenhydramine, block histamines that cause inflammation in the body.

4.Chronic cough due to asthma

Asthma is one of the most common causes of chronic cough in children. When triggered, asthma causes the airways to constrict, leading to a cough that sounds a bit like wheezing. It is also often accompanied by other symptoms like chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Besides getting rid of the irritant that triggered it in the first place, taking asthma medications also help ease this type of chronic cough. You can also use fast-acting bronchodilator inhalers or those administered via nebulizer, which expands the lungs to make it easier to breathe. Corticosteroid inhalers also relieve inflammation of the airways, particularly when used every day.

Often, both types of medication are needed to achieve optimal asthmatic cough relief.

5.Chronic cough due to acid reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), more popularly known as “acid reflux,” can also lead to chronic cough. Although anyone can experience the occasional backing up of acid from the stomach, some people develop a more severe form that comes with persistent reflux that occurs twice a week.

To determine whether the cough is caused by GERD, you have to watch out for the following signs:

● Cough mostly occurs in the evening night or after meals;
● Coughing when lying down;
● Cough persists even without common causes, like medication intake (including ACE inhibitors) and smoking – both of which have coughing as a side effect; and
● Cough that comes without postnasal drip or asthma, or when the chest is clear based on X-rays.

Treating persistent cough brought about by GERD may include the use of antacids and changes in your diet and lifestyle. Basically, its treatment revolves around stopping the acid from coming up from the stomach to prevent throat irritation that leads to coughing.

But if this doesn’t work, you may need a doctor’s help.

The Takeaway

Besides being a reflex that helps rid the body of irritants, coughing is also a clue to your body’s current condition. Pay attention to the details of your cough, and you may have a better chance of identifying its causes and, ultimately, treating it.


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