Understanding and Treating Cough Syncope

The term ‘cough syncope’ is just fancy medical jargon for what most of us would simply describe as passing out due to a coughing fit. Although this is a pretty uncommon condition, it is one that definitely makes sense from a medical point of view. In most cases, a prolonged or particularly severe coughing spell can cause excessive pressure to build up within the thoracic cavity of a person’s chest. This extra pressure makes it difficult for the heart to pump out as much blood as the body needs to function properly and, once the brain has gone too long without oxygen-rich blood, loss of consciousness occurs.

Have you ever suffered from a coughing spell so body-wracking that, for just a few seconds, your vision goes black and you start to feel lightheaded? This is similar to what occurs with cough syncope except that true loss of consciousness actually occurs with this syndrome. It is possible to experience cough syncope once and to never have the issue again, but a person is much more likely to suffer a recurrence in the future if long-term factors contribute to the cause behind chronic coughing. Keep reading to learn about a few conditions that can contribute to cough syncope on both short and long term levels and how each condition should be treated to ease or avoid coughing fits.


Smoking seems to be one of the top contenders behind persistent and recurring coughs, and as a result it can trigger episodes of syncope. It’s no secret that the chemicals in cigarettes can lead to tar formation in the lungs. In addition to this nasty development, the smoke from cigarettes can also cause irritation to the tissues of the lungs. Both of these factors have a lot to do with constant and severe bouts of coughing. With particularly strong coughing spells that may draw out for a long time, such as those in which even drawing a breath of air becomes difficult, the pressure within the chest cavity can quickly grow to become too much for the heart. As mentioned earlier, this extra stress causes blood pressure to drop substantially until unconsciousness takes over.

In this case, the best thing to do to treat syncope and the underlying cough is to stop smoking. Yes, this is asking quite a lot but it’s really the only way to truly correct the problem, as well as promote an overall better state of health. At the very least, it would be worth considering switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco or, better yet, using nicotine patches or gum to satisfy the nicotine cravings without actually ingesting the toxins that irritate the lungs and case coughing spells.


Individuals who suffer from asthma have a similar chronic coughing condition to smokers, only the frequency of the coughing fits varies a lot and, of course, this condition is not elected by the sufferer. Asthma is a condition in which the tubular airways within the lungs sporadically swell and contract. This makes air travel through in spurts rather than as a long, constant draw, which explains the symptomatic wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing that is so characteristic of this condition. Asthma is more common in young children although it can affect anyone at any age. Sometimes childhood asthma seems to taper off and disappear as the child grows up, but this isn’t always the case. There is a strong tie between genetics and asthma and studies have shown that an individual who has a family history of asthma is much more likely to develop this condition. Asthma is also highly associated with hay fever and eczema, as a significant percentage of people who have asthma also have either eczema or hay fever. Of course, this varies from individual to individual and is not by any means a constant factor with asthma.

Asthma cannot be cured but it can be managed with the help of medication and small lifestyle changes. As asthma can be exacerbated by exposure to smoke, chemicals, pollen, mold, dust, and animal fur/dander, avoidance of these elements will help to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Medication can also be administered through an inhaler in the form of a spray, although this is typically used as an immediate treatment for an oncoming or full-blown asthma attack. Other medication, known as control drugs, can be taken regularly to help prevent airway swelling which can drastically reduce asthma attacks.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also known as heartburn, is a condition that most of us are familiar with on an intimate level. This condition received its nickname based on the characteristic painful burning sensation that occurs behind the parting of the ribcage, which is quite close to the heart (although heartburn doesn’t involve the heart at all). Acid reflux is the regurgitation of acid from the stomach to the esophagus. Ideally, acid would remain in the stomach with the help of a tight band of muscles that rests at the top opening of the stomach. In reality, there are a number of factors that can lead to irritation of the sphincter muscles which causes them to contract and relax sporadically. Caffeine, fat/grease, sugar, overabundance of acid, and overeating are just a few of the things that can trigger acid reflux. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to heartburn attacks which could explain why some women experience cough syncope only during pregnancy.

As the acid reaches the esophagus, we instantly feel discomfort in the form of burning or tightness. The tissues of the esophagus are unprotected from the acid and instantly succumb to minor tissue damage. This irritation is the cause behind coughing fits that are commonly associated with heartburn. If the acid is particularly strong, such as after drinking orange or grapefruit juice, the coughing fit might last long enough to result in syncope.

Acid reflux can be effectively treated using over the counter antacid medication like Tums or Rolaids. Avoidance of fatty or sugary foods, overeating, alcohol, and excessive caffeine intake can improve this condition with leaps and bounds. Long-term sufferers can benefit from prescription medications that are designed to limit the amount of stomach acid that is produced.