A cough is the body’s way of removing mucus, irritants and fluid from the airways, and therefore is not always indicative of a serious medical problem. A cough that is present less than three weeks that is not associated with shortness of breath is most often secondary to a viral infection and usually does not warrant medical attention. However, a cough which persists longer than three to four weeks or occurs during sleep should be evaluated.
Cough is one of the most common complaints that an allergist treats in the office. Chronic cough can be secondary to a number of conditions. The most common causes of chronic cough are postnasal drainage, asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux disease. Postnasal drainage occurs when mucus from the nose and/or sinuses travels to the back of the throat, and can be due to allergies, irritants or a chronic sinus infection. Cough is a common symptom of asthma, usually along with wheezing and shortness of breath. In children, however, cough is often the only asthma symptom noted. Similarly, acid reflux may present with cough alone and no other typical “heartburn” or gastrointestinal symptoms. Less common causes of cough can include lung conditions, infections, or certain medications.
Allergists have extensive training in the evaluation and treatment of chronic cough in both children and adults. A detailed history, allergy skin testing, lung function testing and radiologic studies can all be helpful in the diagnosis. At times, there may be several etiologies for a cough, and allergists can successfully treat all of them.