COPD and Cough: How Are They Related And How To Treat Them?

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are known to experience several types of breathing problems, along with coughing. COPD is a chronic and progressive inflammatory lung disease that leads to obstructed airflow from the lungs, and symptoms often include shortness of breath, mucus production, coughing, and wheezing. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common types of conditions that are contributed to COPD. The symptom of coughing, though, is the most annoying and can interfere with your day to day life.

Coughing can also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. It has been observed that many people with COPD visit their doctors to get relief from COPD-related chronic coughing. Let’s take a closer look at COPD and coughing, how they are related, and how to treat them.

COPD and Cough: How Are They Related?

There is no doubt that persistent coughing can be very annoying. However, coughing serves a very useful function in the body as it helps clear out the mucus clogging your airways. This makes it possible for you to breathe easily.

In fact, many doctors teach their COPD patients how to practice deep coughing and even encourage them to cough frequently in order to get rid of the mucus and avoid excess build-up of mucus.(1) Some medical experts also advise against taking any step to stop the coughing because having a clear airway ensures easier breathing for the patient.(2)

Causes of Coughing in People with COPD

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for quite some time, you are probably already aware of how much you end up coughing during the day. At the same time, though, it is good to keep in mind that that if you find yourself coughing more than usual, or coughing up sputum that appears to be different than what it usually looks like, then you should consult your doctor. This helps ensure that you are not experiencing an exacerbation or having a flare-up of the disease.

There can be many reasons behind an increase in coughing. Your body might be producing more mucus, or you might be exposed to triggers such as strong fumes or cigarette smoke. There are many different triggers that can cause an increase in coughing in people with COPD. These triggers tend to vary from person to person. What triggers a bout of coughing in one person might not cause any reaction in another.

It might also be that you are experiencing more coughing as you have developed another medical condition alongside COPD. For example, you may have developed infections such as influenza or pneumonia, or medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).(3) In the case of gastroesophageal reflux disease, when people lie down, GERD pushes the stomach acid upwards into your throat. This causes you to cough.(4)

If you are having an increase in coughing due to another existing condition, then your doctor is likely to prescribe medications or antibiotics to treat the second condition and help you return to your regular level of coughing. However, you should not make any assumptions, and it is always better to consult your doctor so that a correct diagnosis can be made, and the right medication can be started at the earliest.

Treatment for Coughing in COPD

Smoking is known to be one of the most common causes of COPD. (5) If you are a smoker, then the first step to treating COPD-related coughing is to stop smoking. Quitting smoking will help put a stop to your smoker’s cough, which is a dry, hacking cough that is very commonly observed in people who smoke tobacco. You will notice that your smoker’s cough will gradually be replaced by a deep and productive cough that helps clear up mucus from the airways.(6)

Medications for COPD-Related Coughing

Your doctor may prescribe long-acting inhaled beta-agonists such as salmeterol (brand name Serevent Diskus) to reduce COPD-related coughing. Beta-agonists are a class of drugs that a type of bronchodilator. These drugs help in opening up the airways and allows more oxygen to enter the lungs.

These long-acting bronchodilators are commonly used in combination with inhaled corticosteroids, such as Symbicort and Advair.

Many researchers have also researched the effectiveness of cough syrup with codeine in decreasing COPD-related coughing.(7)

There have only been a few small research studies that indicate a dramatic decrease in coughing with the use of cough syrup with codeine.

However, many other studies have been unable to conclude the same result. Furthermore, the use of codeine, in the long run, can prove to be quite addictive. However, you should not be using codeine and cough syrup to control COPD-related coughing without consulting your doctor. In fact, no medications should be taken without consulting your doctor, even supplements.

There are many other medications that are also effective in controlling the symptoms of COPD, but they are not effective in controlling the cough. These include:

  • Corticosteroids like prednisone (brand name Prednisone Intensol and Rayos)
  • Long-acting anticholinergics such as tiotropium (brand name Spiriva) – this drug can actually increase the sensitivity of the cough reflex, making you cough more.

Conclusion

Coughing is known to be one of the most common symptoms of COPD, but surprisingly, there has been very little research done on how to control COPD-related coughing and whether or not this type of coughing should even be controlled in the first place. If you find that coughing has started interfering with your day to day life and not letting you sleep peacefully in the night, then you should talk to your doctor to find the best treatment option to manage your cough.

References:

  1. Sumner, H., Woodcock, A., Kolsum, U., Dockry, R., Lazaar, A.L., Singh, D., Vestbo, J. and Smith, J.A., 2013. Predictors of objective cough frequency in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 187(9), pp.943-949.
  2. Smith, J. and Woodcock, A., 2006. Cough and its importance in COPD. International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 1(3), p.305.
  3. Polley, L., Yaman, N., Heaney, L., Cardwell, C., Murtagh, E., Ramsey, J., MacMahon, J., Costello, R.W. and McGarvey, L., 2008. Impact of cough across different chronic respiratory diseases: comparison of two cough-specific health-related quality of life questionnaires. Chest, 134(2), pp.295-302.
  4. Rascon-Aguilar, I.E., Pamer, M., Wludyka, P., Cury, J. and Vega, K.J., 2011. Poorly treated or unrecognized GERD reduces quality of life in patients with COPD. Digestive diseases and sciences, 56(7), pp.1976-1980.
  5. Stang, P., Lydick, E., Silberman, C., Kempel, A. and Keating, E.T., 2000. The prevalence of COPD: using smoking rates to estimate disease frequency in the general population. Chest, 117(5), pp.354S-359S.
  6. Stravinskaite, K., Sitkauskiene, B., Dicpinigaitis, P.V., Babusyte, A. and Sakalauskas, R., 2009. Influence of smoking status on cough reflex sensitivity in subjects with COPD. Lung, 187(1), pp.37-42.
  7. Smith, J. and Woodcock, A., 2006. Cough and its importance in COPD. International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 1(3), p.305.

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