Cough Clue #5: Do You Experience Other Symptoms Along With Cough?
Sometimes a chronic cough is the only sign of asthma a person experiences. (Others also experience wheezing, tightness in the chest, and feeling out of breath.)
Another possibility for a lone cough is gastroesophageal disease. As many as half of people with GERD who cough don't experience its other classic symptoms, heartburn or a bad taste in the mouth.
Cough plus shortness of breath.
Shortness of breath is the major symptom of COPD. Some people experience it only when they exercise or exert themselves (as when walking up a flight of stairs); for others, it's continuous. So if you've got cough you can't shake and it seems harder to catch your breath, get checked. "People often lose 40 percent of their lung function before they notice," says Edelman. "It sneaks up on you over time."
In the United States, most people who get COPD are smokers. Worldwide, chronic bronchitis and emphysema can also be caused by air pollution and by breathing fumes from cooking over an open stove.
Asthma also causes shortness of breath in some people.
Cough plus fever.
Fever, with or without chills and night sweats, indicates an infection. This can be a mild viral infection such as a cold or a sign of something more serious, like pneumonia or tuberculosis (TB, a serious bacterial infection of the lungs). Weight loss is another feature of TB.
Cough plus "snorting" and "trickling."
Some people describe postnasal drip -- now known as upper airway cough syndrome -- as "like having a runny nose in the back of your throat." To cope with excessive mucus produced by the sinuses, a person may snort (clear the nose by pulling air and mucus up through it) or feel like they are gagging on a constant trickling sensation at the back of the throat that causes them to try to cough it up. The person might also have bad breath, a constant sore throat, nausea, or vomiting as side effects.
The causes of chronic postnasal drip include allergies and sinusitis -- even the changing hormonal levels of pregnancy can be to blame. Depending on the findings of a complete physical exam, the treatments range from nasal irrigation, allergy medications, and antibiotics to surgery.
Cough plus chest pain or heartburn.
In people who have reflux disease, a chronic cough and sore throat may be accompanied by GERD's classic symptoms: a heaviness in the chest or a sensation of something stuck there, or heartburn after eating a heavy meal, lying down, or bending over. Symptoms usually worsen at night, and coughing can disturb sleep.