In order to treat an ineffective cough, it is important to keep airways free of mucus to prevent invasion of airways by bacteria that can cause serious disease. Physical therapy can help people whose expiratory muscles have been weakened or paralyzed by disease or spinal cord injury. Some drugs are available that may help some patients cough up and expel abnormally thick mucus.
Treating a chronic cough with a known cause is usually straightforward. When the cause can't be determined, treatment becomes more problematic and frustrating. Specific therapy for treating cough is so often successful that there is a limited role for nonspecific medicines.
1. Treat acid reflux
A cough caused by acid reflux can often be treated with lifestyle changes alone. When lifestyle changes don't alleviate symptoms of acid reflux, your doctor might prescribe a proton pump inhibitor, which blocks acid production and allows esophageal tissue time to heal. Lifestyle treatments for acid reflux include:
- Avoiding food triggers
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Raising the head of your bed
- Waiting three to four hours after a meal before lying down
2. Treat asthma
Inhaled corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that are the most effective treatment for asthma and asthma-related cough. The use of inhaled bronchodilators may also be required. Long-term use of corticosteroids may increase the risk of skin thinning, bruising, osteoporosis and cataracts.
3. Treat postnasal drip
Antihistamines and decongestants are usually given in combination as the standard treatment for allergies and postnasal drip. Older, sedating antihistamines may be more effective in treating cough than the newer generation of drugs that don't make you drowsy.
Some over-the-counter products may help control coughs, but they do nothing for the underlying cause. Examples include:
Many types of chronic coughs are caused or worsened by smoking. Quitting cigarettes can help dramatically, as can avoiding secondhand smoke.
When the reason for your cough isn't known, your doctor may prescribe a cough suppressant or a type of medication that relaxes the air passages in your lungs. There are medicines to help you stop coughing (antitussives) and others to help you cough more effectively (protussives). Some medicines are available without prescription, while others must be prescribed by a physician. No cough medicine should be taken for long periods of time (3 weeks or more) without a medical examination. You could be taking the wrong medicine without realizing it, or you could be inadvertently using cough medicine to cover up a serious problem such as asthma or lung cancer.
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