What Is Cough?

Cough is a common side effect of many respiratory illnesses and can be both a symptom and a protective reflex. It’s the body’s way of removing foreign material, secretions and irritants from the throat and upper airway. Allergens such as dust, pollen, smoke or chemicals in the air can also trigger a cough.

Types of Coughs

Coughs can be divided into four types:

  • Dry Cough: A dry or non-productive cough is one that doesn’t produce mucus or phlegm. It is typically caused by irritation of the throat rather than a bacterial or viral infection. The irritation can be caused by exposure to allergens, air pollutants, ACE inhibitors or other medications.
  • Chronic Cough: Chronic coughs last for more than 8 weeks and can have many possible causes such as asthma, acid reflux, post-nasal drip, upper airway cough syndrome, lung disease and other conditions.
  • Croup Cough: Croup cough is caused by a virus that affects the larynx and upper airway. It is typically associated with a hoarse or bark-like sound and can last for up to several days.
  • Whooping Cough: Whooping cough is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is characterized by severe coughing spells that can last for up to 10 weeks.

Symptoms of Cough

The most common symptoms of a cough include:

  • Producing mucus or phlegm
  • Wheezing or a whistling sound with breathing
  • Pain or a tickle in the throat
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chest tightness
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing up blood

Treatment for Cough

Most coughs will eventually resolve on their own with home remedies. These include drinking warm fluids such as tea or soup, using over-the-counter cough medicines (e.g. cough drops or syrups), using a humidifier in the home, and avoiding irritants such as tobacco smoke. If a cough persists for more than a few weeks, however, medical attention should be sought.