What is cough?

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. If it persists for several weeks or one that brings up discolored or bloody mucus may indicate a condition that needs medical attention. While an occasional cough is normal, a cough that persists may be a sign of a medical problem.


How bad is my cough?

Mild: Mild symptoms; nonprescription intervention indicated

Moderate: Moderate symptoms, medical intervention indicated; limiting instrumental activities of daily life (preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing housework, and using a telephone)

Severe: Severe symptoms; limiting self-care activities of daily life (eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet).

How to manage mild cough?
  • Over-the-counter remedies can help in a number of ways. Expectorants thin mucus and make it easier to hack up.
  • Drink warm fluids, inhale warm, moist air, and use drops. Add a spoonful of honey to hot tea, or choose a drop that has it.
  • Avoid triggers. If you have allergies or asthma, remove allergens from your home. Keep pets out of your bedroom. Use air conditioners to filter air.
  • Common viruses are the most likely causes. Over time your airways will heal and it will stop.
  • Elevate your head with extra pillows while sleeping.
  • Use cough drops to soothe your throat.
  • Gargle with warm salt water regularly to remove mucus and soothe your throat.
  • Avoid irritants, including smoke, tobacco and dust.
  • Add honey or ginger to hot tea to clear your airway.
  • Use decongestant sprays to unblock your nose and ease breathing.
How to manage moderate and severe cough?

Call your doctor if you have cough or if it involves any one of these:

What causes cough?
  • Flu
  • Common cold
  • Laryngitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Hay fever
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Smoking
  • Throat disorders
  • Some medicines
cancer related cough
  • Non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer
  • Cancers that affect the upper respiratory tract
  • Any cancer that has spread to the lungs or chest
  • Cancer treatments (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy)

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