Acute Care Information and Resources

Cough or Sinus

Coughing and Sinus problems derive from the body’s reaction to foreign invaders and the need to expel them. A cough is often brought on by irritants (viral, bacteria, allergens, environmental) that send nerve signals to your brain. The brain then prompts the muscles in your chest and abdomen to contract, causing air pressure from your lungs to rid your body of the irritant.[1] The sinuses are located in what is called mucus membranes in the forehead, behind the nose, and in the cheekbones which also cause a range of symptoms as they attempt to expel the irritant.[2] Coughing and sinus related issues can have a multitude of causes that affect respiratory health. These symptoms can range from minor irritation of the throat and nasal passageways to more serious health conditions that may include a variety of additional symptoms.

Common symptoms: Besides food going down the wrong way or getting a tickle in your throat, coughing can range from acute throat-clearing to coughing up mucus or blood. A dry cough may cause strain on the throat and a raw feeling in the chest, while a productive cough will produce phlegm to be expelled from the throat. A chronic cough that lasts for weeks may be an indicator of an underlying disease or respiratory distress. Symptoms such as coughing up blood, shortness of breath, a fever over 100 F, and/or accompanied symptoms like dizziness or vomiting should be immediately assessed by a doctor.[3] Sinuses respond to an irritant by causing a buildup of mucus, sneezing, redness, swelling, congestion, and nasal drainage. Drainage from the sinuses can irritate the throat and also drain to the chest causing coughing and wheezing.

Causes: Acute causes of cough and sinus problems are the common cold, flu, environmental irritants, and whooping cough. Chronic causes include allergies, bronchitis, postnasal drip, asthma, respiratory infections, viral infections, bacterial infections, emphysema, exposure to secondhand smoke, laryngitis, certain cancers, HIV, chronic sinusitis, COPD, and others.[4]

Treatment: Since cough and sinus issues have a variety of causes. It will be important to assess any accompanying symptoms and seek medical attention if they become severe. For acute issues, OTC decongestants, antihistamines, or cough medicines can alleviate symptoms as well as keeping a clean, smoke-free environment. Allergy sufferers can benefit from using humidifiers to moisten the air while indoors. Practicing good hygiene (routine hand washing) is also important in preventing the spreading of germs and bacteria, as well as dressing warmly during colder seasons.