A cough is a voluntary or involuntary rapid release of air from the lungs that clears the throat and breathing passage. Coughing helps the body to get rid of dust, smoke, pollen, microbes, fluids, and mucus that are in the airways.
Most coughs are caused by a cold or flu.
Other causes include:
- Smoking tobacco.
- Heartburn that causes acid from the stomach to move up to your throat.
- Allergies, for example hay fever.
- Infections of the airways such as your nose, throat or lungs.
- Mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose.
A cough may be accompanied by:
- Shortness of breath.
- Runny nose.
- Sore throat.
- Fever and chills.
- Night sweats.
- Difficulty swallowing or coughing when swallowing.
- A feeling of liquid running down the back of your throat
- Chest pain.
- Coughing up blood, in rare cases.
- Coughing so hard it makes you vomit.
- You have a cough with unexplained weight loss
See the doctor as soon as you can if your cough interferes with your daily life and ability to work, or if it comes with any of these other symptoms:
- Trouble breathing.
- Chest pain.
- Ongoing heartburn.
- Coughing up blood.
- Fever or night sweats.
- Trouble sleeping.
You can not prevent a cough, but by observing personal and cough hygiene you can reduce spreading germs. You should cough into a bent elbow and wear a face mask if you are coughing a lot. Wash your hands with soap under running water frequently throughout the day.
You can manage or prevent cough in the following ways:
- Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially warm fluids like tea.
- Use cough drops (e.g., menthol sweets like Tomtom or Vicks) to soothe your throat.
- Gargle with warm salt water regularly to remove mucus and soothe your throat.
- Avoid irritants, including smoke and dust.
- Add honey or ginger to hot tea to relieve your cough and clear your airways (not to be used in infants of less than one year old).
- Use nasal sprays or drops to unblock your nose and ease breathing.
- Over-the-counter cough remedies can help in several ways. Cough syrups can reduce your urge to cough and make it easier to clear your throat.
- If you have allergies or asthma, identify and remove substances that trigger the allergies from your home. This includes dust mites, pollen and pet hairs.
- Coughs triggered by infection, asthma, heartburn, cancers and other medical conditions need special treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about appropriate teratments.
A cough is usually not serious and resolves on its own after a few days. Most coughs are the result of viral infections. Antibiotics do not work against a viral infection, so do not use them. Drinking warm water may be as effective as taking over-the-counter cough syrups, without the side effects (e.g. drowsiness).