What to look out for
Smokers usually get two types of cough:
- a cough caused by irritation or damage to the lungs due to smoking, or
- a cough caused by colds, flu or bronchitis. This type of cough generally comes with a runny or blocked nose, fever, sore throat, earache or general aches and pains.
After years of smoking adults can develop Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (also known as COPD), This is one of the most common respiratory (breathing) diseases in Ireland. It usually affects people over the age of 35.
Around 110,000 people in Ireland have been diagnosed with COPD. It is thought that another 200,000 people are living with the disease but have not been diagnosed. These people tend to dismiss their symptoms as a ‘smoker’s cough’ and do not look for medical help.
Although you cannot reverse the damage in your lungs, you can prevent COPD from developing or getting worse by getting diagnosed, quitting smoking and making lifestyle changes. Treatment for COPD usually involves using an inhaler to make breathing easier.
What can you do
Ask your pharmacist for advice on medications and remedies that may help your cough. If the cough is due to a cold or flu, over-the-counter cough remedies may help bring up the phlegm so that coughing is easier. Paracetamol or ibuprofen will relieve pain. Antibiotics are rarely needed for coughs caused by a cold or flu. Rest, drinking plenty of liquids and taking time to allow your immune system to fight the infection are very important.
Coughing spreads the germs that caused your cough in the first place so it is important not to pass on the illness to others. You can do this by coughing into a tissue, binning the tissue immediately and washing your hands afterwards.
If you have COPD and are on inhalers, follow your doctor’s instructions for when you get a COPD attack. This will usually involve taking your reliever inhaler 4 to 5 times a day in addition to your preventer or maintenance inhalers. You may also need a short course of steroids or antibiotics. As there are many levels of COPD you should see your doctor regularly to review your condition. You should also get the annual flu and pneumococcal vaccines.
It’s important to think about quitting smoking. It’s by far the best thing you can do for your health and most smokers want to quit. The HSE provides a lot of free support to smokers who are thinking of quitting. This support is available on the phone, online or in person. Visit www.quit.ie or freefone our QUIT team on 1800 201 203.
When to seek help