A cough is a sudden burst of air from the lungs. It can help to clear secretions or foreign items from the lungs and respiratory tract.
There are different types of cough:
Subacute cough is often a cough that comes after a respiratory infection like a cold or flu. It can also happen after breathing in things that irritate your airways.
A chronic cough has many causes. Common examples include:
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Factors that may increase your risk of developing a cough include:
Coughs can have fluid or be dry. You may find that your cough is worse when waking up and at the night when you are lying down.
Call your doctor if you have:
Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if you have cough with:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Acute cough is usually diagnosed by its accompanying symptoms.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
During a bronchoscopy, a lighted tube with a camera is inserted into the lungs. Tissue samples can also be taken to be closely examined.
Your lung function and capacity may be tested. This can be done with pulmonary function tests or a methacholine challenge test.
The best treatment for a cough is to treat the underlying condition.
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products available. These include decongestants, expectorants, antihistamines, and antitussives.
Note: Over the counter cough and cold medicine should not be used in children under 2 years old. Check with your doctor before giving this medicine to your child.
Consider putting a steam vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier in your room. This type of moisture therapy may help to make secretions looser and easier to cough up.
To reduce your chances of developing a cough:
American Lung Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Chronic cough in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T146529/Chronic-cough-in-adults. Updated May 25, 2017. Accessed August 14, 2017.
Cough. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/symptom/cough. Accessed August 14, 2017.
Coughlin L. Cough: Diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(4):567-575.
Last reviewed September 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 9/17/2014