Risk factors for coughing

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Everyone will cough at some point as it’s a natural defence mechanism. Dusty environments and simple viral illnesses will make most of us cough, but there are certain situations that could increase the risk.

  • Active smoking: The chemicals in tobacco smoke irritate and damage the lung lining, and make the lungs produce more mucus. Not all smokers will cough, but it’s very common.
  • Aeroallergens (airborne substances that can cause an allergic response): If you’re allergic to certain inhaled allergens like pollen or pet dander, it can trigger allergic rhinitis (hay fever), which can cause coughing along with worsening asthma, if applicable.
  • Environmental irritants: There are many irritants in our home and work environments (e.g. smoke, strong chemical fumes, mould). On their own, or when coupled with a lack of ventilation, these irritants can cause coughing.
  • Chronic respiratory illness: Examples include asthma, chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Outdoor air pollution: Living near freeways, dusty work places (e.g. working in a quarry) and certain chemical plants may result in coughing

Read more:
Diagnosing a cough

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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