The most common symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis (PF) are cough and shortness of breath. Coughing is associated with a wide variety of other diseases and conditions that range from the common cold to serious lung disease, making it a symptom that doesn’t necessarily indicate a PF diagnosis. However, a dry persistent cough that accompanies other key pulmonary fibrosis symptoms is often an indicator of the disease and requires palliative treatment and care.
In any health setting, a cough is prompted by irritated nerve endings in the airways. In most situations cough results from excess mucous or infection, but the characteristic dry cough of PF can be caused by the increase of scar tissue in the lungs, post-nasal drip, and even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Coughing can become chronic and is typically progressive in pulmonary fibrosis. Intense coughing spells can comprise the clinical features of an acute exacerbation — with coughing and flu-like symptoms intensifying shortness of breath.
How is cough treated in pulmonary fibrosis?
Treating cough in pulmonary fibrosis is considered palliative care (aimed to soothe symptoms) and often calls for many of the same standard therapies used to treat acute cough in other health conditions.
Physicians can prescribe from a wide range of therapeutics that include benzonatate, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), and over-the-counter remedies such as cough drops. Prescription narcotics, nebulized lidocaine, amitriptyline, gabapentin, and baclofen are also prescribed to control cough in PF patients. Hypnosis is considered an alternative treatment strategy.
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