Chronic Cough Can Damage Your Health

An irritating tickle in the throat and a persistent cough, not much of a problem is it? Well it can be - chronic cough can be deleterious to your health. In fact it can deplete systems throughout the body of their vital oxygen. The good news is that cough can be helped by controlling your breathing.

What causes chronic cough? A cough may start with a respiratory infection, but how does it become chronic? This is a trick question as coughing irritates the airways and makes another cough more likely. So coughing can cause cough, and persist well after the initial infection has cleared up! 

Why is this, what is the connection? Well when you cough, you usually will take in big volumes of air through your mouth, much bigger amounts and more often than someone who is well and breathing normally. When you cough through the mouth you are taking in large volumes of cold, dry, unfiltered air (normally filtered through the nose). The airways can become dry and irritated, and increased forceful airflow can cause damage to the tiny air sacs where the oxygen is taken up from the lungs.

In addition, too much of the gas carbon dioxide is flushed out of the lungs. This gas is a natural tranquilizer and normally calms the nervous system, but if it drops too low following this “hyperventilation” with coughing, the airways become further irritated and oversensitive. In an asthmatic, this may cause spasm or constriction of the airways and an asthma attack may follow. Immune cells called mast cells release histamine, which sensitizes and irritates the airways further. And mast cells release more histamine in low carbon dioxide environments.

The rest of the body will suffer too, as the low carbon dioxide stops oxygen getting out of the bloodstream and getting into all the other parts of the body effectively. You may get increasingly fatigued and get more and more symptoms of hyperventilation as time goes by. These can include difficulty concentrating, anxiety, poor sleep, IBS, cold hands and many other seemingly unrelated symptoms.

In fact many people with chronic health problems such as ME/CFS can point the finger and say “I have never really recovered my health since I had that bad chest infection/cough”.

There are no medications that are very effective for chronic cough; the ones that have some effect may work by slowing the breathing. Inhaling steam and oils such as pine and eucalyptus may help temporarily.

Luckily, the Buteyko breathing method retrains breathing, reducing it back towards normal levels, therefore getting at the underlying cause.  As the carbon dioxide is able to build up again, the airways open naturally, become less sensitive, and the coughing reduces, naturally.

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