Why do we cough?

Coughing is the body’s way of trying to rid the lungs of mucus, foreign matter, and microbes that can cause infection and illness. You might develop a cough from irritants in the environment you’re sensitive to. This could be because of an allergic reaction, virus, or bacterial infection.

Some illnesses and conditions can cause both adults and children to cough so intensely that they vomit.

Causes in adults

Several conditions can cause severe bouts of coughing in adults. These may be the result of an acute, short-term illness or allergy. They may also be chronic and last for many weeks, months, or even years. Causes of coughing severe enough to induce vomiting include:

  • cigarette smoking: Smoker’s cough can be wet or dry, and may induce vomiting, and other severe health issues such as emphysema.
  • postnasal drip: The mucus that is produced drips down the throat, triggering coughing bouts that can cause vomiting.
  • asthma: Coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, and excessive production of mucus are all symptoms of asthma. These symptoms can also cause vomiting.
  • cough variant asthma: Coughing is the only symptom of cough variant asthma. This type of asthma produces a dry, persistent cough, which can be severe enough to induce vomiting.
  • acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Acid reflux and GERD can both cause irritation in the lower esophagus. This can trigger coughing and a sore throat, among other symptoms.
  • acute bronchitis: This type of infection causes a cough that may produce large amounts of mucus, which can create gagging and vomiting. A dry, wheezing cough that is intense enough to trigger vomiting may continue to linger for weeks after the infection has dissipated.
  • pneumonia: This infection can produce extreme bouts of coughing and vomiting as a result of mucus being expelled from the lungs, or from a severe, postnasal drip.
  • blood pressure medications: Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors sometimes causes severe, chronic coughing. ACE inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

Causes in children

Some conditions that cause coughing-related vomiting in adults can have the same effect in children. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, cough variant asthma, postnasal drip, and acid reflux. Other conditions include:

  • pertussis (whooping cough): Pertussis is a respiratory tract infection. It causes intense and rapid coughs. They typically drain the lungs of air, causing the person to gasp in oxygen. This causes the whooping sound that gives pertussis its famous nickname. Vomiting is a very common reaction to these symptoms.
  • respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): RSV causes inflammation of the lungs and breathing passages. It is a leading cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in babies.

When is coughing and vomiting an emergency?

Vomiting induced by coughing is not by itself a medical emergency. If it is accompanied by these other symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately:

How is the underlying condition that causes severe coughing diagnosed?

Your doctor will want to rule out seasonal allergies and other potential allergens as a cause. They will ask about other symptoms you may have, such as heartburn, fever, and muscle aches to determine if you might have acid reflux, GERD, a common cold, or the flu.

Several tests may be used to diagnose this condition in adults and children. They include:

  • chest X-ray: to look for signs of pneumonia
  • sinus X-ray: to look for sinus infection
  • CT scan: to look for areas of infection in the lungs or sinus cavities
  • lung function test: gives your doctor information about your ability to intake air and may be used to diagnose asthma
  • spirometry test: provides information about air intake ability and asthma
  • scope tests: requires a bronchoscope, which has a small camera and a light to look at your lungs and air passages, or a similar type of tube, called a rhinoscope can be used to look at the nasal passages

How is severe coughing treated?

The underlying conditions for your symptoms need to be treated in order for your coughing and vomiting to dissipate. Some medications used to treat coughs include:

  • decongestants: for allergies and postnasal drip
  • glucocorticoids: for asthma, allergies, or postnasal drip
  • bronchodilator or inhaler: for asthma
  • antihistamines: for allergies and postnasal drip
  • cough suppressants: for coughs with a cause that cannot be specified
  • antibiotics: for bacterial infection, including pertussis
  • acid blockers: for acid reflux and GERD

Most conditions benefit from bed rest and drinking lots of fluids. If symptoms get worse or do not improve within a few days, ask your doctor about next steps.

What is the outlook for a severe cough?

Most conditions that cause this symptom are acute and short-lived. Once the underlying cause has been addressed, your coughing and vomiting will go away. Some conditions that cause this symptom are long-lasting, and require a doctor’s care and ongoing medication. In many cases your symptoms will get better if you stick to the treatment plan your doctor creates for you.

Can a severe cough be prevented?

Not smoking cigarettes is one of the best ways to safeguard your health. If you smoke, talk about a smoking-cessation regimen with your doctor as a means of preventing chronic coughing.

Other ways you can prevent this symptom is by keeping your environment free of allergens, dust, and chemical irritants. An air purifier may help you do this. Many options are available on Amazon.

Washing your hands often, and avoiding individuals who are ill, will help you to avoid many of the germs which cause colds, flus, and other illnesses that have coughing and vomiting as symptoms.

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