Risk factors for chronic cough

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Take note of the following risk factors for chronic cough:

  • Smoking: The foreign substances in tobacco smoke can lead to a “smoker’s cough” – a result of the airways constantly trying to clear itself of chemicals. Heavy smokers often develop chronic bronchitis after 40 years of age.
  • Asthma and/or allergies: Allergies can lead to swelling of the airways, post-nasal drip and resultant coughing. Poorly controlled asthma is another risk factor for chronic cough. In some people, asthma presents mostly as a cough (without the characteristic laboured breathing).
  • Irritants in the home or work environment: Exposure to dust, pollen, pet dander, chemicals, industrial pollution and other irritants can all increase the risk for chronic cough. 
  • Chronic lung disease: Conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis cause persistent irritation and inflammation in the airways, leading to chronic cough.
  • Gender: Women have a more sensitive cough reflex, increasing their risk for developing a chronic cough.
  • Obesity: A link between obesity and chronic respiratory diseases is increasingly being recognised. Obesity can also increase one’s risk for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which could lead to chronic coughing.

Reviewed by Professor Richard van Zyl-Smit, Head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. MBChB, MRCP(UK), Dip HIV(Man), MMED, FCP(SA), Cert Pulm(SA), PhD. February 2018.

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