Cough

Coughing is the body’s way of removing foreign material or mucus from the lungs and upper airway passages or of reacting to an irritated airway. Coughs have distinctive traits you can learn to recognize. A cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of your cough can be determined only when other symptoms are evaluated by a Doctor or Provider.

A cough is separated into productive and non-productive cough, meaning a cough which produces mucus and a cough without mucus.

Productive Cough

A productive cough produces phlegm or mucus (sputum). The mucus may have drained down the back of the throat from the nose or sinuses or may have come up from the lungs. A productive cough generally should not be suppressed-it clears mucus from the lungs. There are many causes of a productive cough, such as:

Viral Illnesses
It is normal to have a productive cough when you have a common cold. Coughing is often triggered by mucus that drains down the back of the throat. This is called post nasal drip.

Infections
An infection of the lungs or upper airway passages can cause a cough. A productive cough may be a symptom of pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, or tuberculosis.

Chronic Lung Disease
A productive cough could be a sign that a disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is getting worse or that you have an infection.

GERD or Acid Reflux
Stomach acid backing up into the esophagus camera. This type of coughing may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and may awaken you from sleep.

Nasal Discharge (Post-Nasal Drip)
This can cause a productive cough or the feeling that you constantly need to clear your throat. Experts disagree about whether a postnasal drip or the viral illness that caused it is responsible for the cough.

Smoking or Other Tobacco Use
A productive cough in a person who smokes or uses other forms of tobacco is often a sign of lung damage or irritation of the throat or esophagus.

Non-Productive Cough

A nonproductive cough is dry and does not produce sputum. A dry, hacking cough may develop toward the end of a cold or after exposure to an irritant, such as dust or smoke. There are many causes of a non-productive cough, such as:

Viral Illnesses
After a common cold, a dry cough may last several weeks longer than other symptoms and often gets worse at night.

Bronchospasm
A non-productive cough, particularly at night, may mean spasms in the bronchial tubes (bronchospasm) caused by irritation.

Allergies
Frequent sneezing is also a common symptom of allergic rhinitis. Exposure to dust, fumes, and chemicals in the work environment.

Medications
Called ACE inhibitors that are used to control high blood pressure. Examples of ACE inhibitors include captopril (Capoten), enalapril maleate (Vasotec), and lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestoretic, or Zestril).

Asthma
A chronic dry cough may be a sign of mild asthma. Other symptoms may include wheezing, shortness of breath, or a feeling of tightness in the chest. For more information, see the topic Asthma in Teens and Adults.

Airway Obstruction
This is caused by an inhaled object, such as food or a pill.

A careful evaluation of your health may help you identify other symptoms. Remember, a cough is only a symptom, not a disease, and often the importance of your cough can only be determined when other symptoms are evaluated. Coughs occur with bacterial and viral respiratory infections.

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