We all cough from time to time. Sometimes we simply have a scratchy throat, and especially during the winter months we cough due to colds and flu. We rarely pay too much attention to a cough and it usually goes away after a few days.
But when is a cough more than just a frog in your throat, or a symptom of the common cold? In serious diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) a cough is often the first indication that something is seriously wrong.
Due to intensive public awareness campaigns, many people are familiar with these disorders, but unfortunately not all dangerous conditions associated with a cough are "front of mind". Here are seven dangerous conditions you should consider when you are suffering from a cough. Although some of these are rare, it's worth checking them out.
1. Lung cancer
We know that smoking is a big risk factor for developing lung cancer, but even non-smokers can be at risk. Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells grow in the bronchial walls, according to a Health24 review. Coughing can be a sign of cancer and is caused by intrabronchial protrusion of the tumour. This lesion may change the character of sound in chronic coughers to a “brassy” sound. Research from the Sheffield Hallam University indicates that you should go to the doctor if a new cough persists for more than three weeks. At an advanced stage sufferers are likely to cough up blood, which is an urgent indicator that you should get medical attention.
2. Cystic fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease characterised by abnormally thick, sticky mucus that prevents organs such as the lungs and pancreas from working correctly. According to The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation “the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria, leading to infections, extensive lung damage, and eventually, respiratory failure”. Thick sputum (substance produced by coughing or clearing the throat), and a chronic cough and wheezing are signs of this disease.
Atelectasis occurs when one or more areas of your lungs collapse or don't inflate properly. It can be due to an accumulation of mucus in the airways, and coughing might actually bring some relief. Coughing might be more severe than is normal for you, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and this can be an indicator of the condition.
4. Congestive heart failure
Some conditions cause immediate and noticeable harm, but other ones like congestive heart failure (CHF) usually develop over time. Sufferers’ hearts are unable to pump blood effectively and/or prevent blood from accumulating in the lungs. An early symptom of the disease is a dry, hacking cough, especially when lying down. A Health24 review shows CHF should not be ignored as it can lead to a heart attack, and ultimately death.
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that affects many organs in the body. A study by the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research found that it triggered heightened immunity, "which means that a person’s immune system, which normally protects the body from infection and disease, overreacts and damages the body’s own tissues". When sarcoidosis affects the lungs (also called pulmonary fibrosis) inflammation can scar lung tissue leading to reduced oxygen levels. A dry cough that persists, and struggling to breathe are potential signs of this disease.
6. Pulmonary oedema
Pulmonary oedema means that there is excess fluid in the lungs. The fluid collects in the air sacs, making it difficult to breathe. A cough that produces sputum with small bubbles can be a sign of pulmonary oedema, research from the University of Maryland found. It is advisable to consult a doctor when you produce pink, frothy sputum during a cough.
7. Acute respiratory distress syndrome
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a contagious and sometimes fatal viral respiratory illness, according to a Health24 review. Symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses like flu and pneumonia. The disease is transferred when a person coughs, and a chronic, persistent cough might be a sign of SARS. Consult a doctor if you struggle to get rid of a cough.