Cough

Find a symptom by its first letter

Definition

A cough is your body’s way of responding when something irritates your throat or airways. An irritant stimulates nerves that send a message to your brain. The brain then tells muscles in your chest and abdomen to push air out of your lungs to force out the irritant.

An occasional cough is normal and healthy. A cough that persists for several weeks or one that brings up discolored or bloody mucus may indicate a condition that needs medical attention.

At times, coughing can be very forceful the velocity of air from a vigorous cough can approach 500 miles an hour. Prolonged, vigorous coughing is exhausting and can cause sleeplessness, headaches, urinary incontinence and even broken ribs.

Causes

While an occasional cough is normal, a cough that persists may be a sign of a medical problem.

A cough is considered “acute” if it lasts less than three weeks. It is considered “chronic” if it lasts longer than eight weeks (four weeks in children).

Some causes of coughs include:

Common causes acute

  • Common cold
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Inhaling an irritant
  • Pneumonia
  • Whooping cough

Common causes chronic

  • Allergies
  • Asthma (most common in children)
  • Bronchitis
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Postnasal drip

Others

  • Acute sinusitis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Bronchiolitis (especially in young children)
  • Choking: First aid (especially in children)
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • COPD
  • Croup (especially in young children)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Heart failure
  • Laryngitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Medications called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Neuromuscular diseases, such as parkinsonism, which weaken the coordination of upper airway and swallowing muscles
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (especially in young children)
  • Tuberculosis

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